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How is nature to be valued? New report on the way from IPBES

A hand and a plant. Photo.
In a new report IPBES consider what values that can be put on nature, and what methods exist to calculate such a values. Photo: Istock.

Is it possible to put a value on nature and the vital ecosystem services it provides for us? What are the pros and cons of different valuation models? These are the key questions addressed in a new report by IPBES, the UN’s biodiversity panel, to be published on 11 July.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) can be described as the equivalent to the UN’s climate panel, IPCC, but focusing on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Over the past few years, the panel has published a number of reports on the global status of biodiversity.

Representatives of the world’s countries will gather for a plenary meeting in Bonn from 3 to 9 July to discuss a new IPBES report, which will then be presented on 11 July. This time the meeting will consider what values that can be put on nature, and what methods exist to calculate such a values.

Driving forcec behind the crisis

One of the co-authors of the report is Mine Islar, a sustainability researcher at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS).

“One of the reasons for the biodiversity crisis is linked to how nature is valued in political and economic decisions,” she says, and considers that the new report can help to change this.

­“It addresses the most important driving forces behind the loss of biodiversity and offers a typology for identifying different nature values. It is a tool that will give decision-makers important guidance,” she says.

What IPBES does is to create systematics for considering the values of nature benefits, how these values relate to different groups in society – including indigenous peoples – and what methods are available to calculate the values.

A demand for measurability

This approach is a relatively new regarding biodiversity, and there are signs of demand for measurability, says Henrik Smith, professor of animal ecology at Lund University and a member of the Government’s Research Council for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which acts as support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s work with IPBES. Henrik Smith makes a comparison with the climate issue, where it is possible, for example, to quantify a company’s impact on the climate by calculating carbon dioxide equivalents.

“There is no generally accepted measurement for biodiversity applicable for all contexts, which means that diversity issues risk being overlooked, for example in financial decisions. IPBES is faced with a hard job to in its report identify the pluralism of nature values that exist and how these can be considered, and the report also shows that we are a long way off from a method that can sum up these values in a comprehensive way,” he says.

IPBES will not offer any advice, as the report is a compilation of current knowledge that is to act as support for decision-makers and policy-makers around the world. The basis for the panel’s compilation is more than 13,000 research articles reviewed by 82 leading researchers from 47 countries over the past four years.

More information on the plenary meeting 3-9 July and the report on the IPBES website:

Values assessment | IPBES secretariat

Panel discussion from 6 May 2022 with leading Swedish researchers and Swedbank’s head of sustainability on the challenges biodiversity presents for the financial system (in Swedish)