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Defining values in valuation – the IPBES assessment on diverse values of nature

The state of our planet says a lot about humankind – amongst other things, how we value our environment. The biodiversity crisis is just one outcome of our past decisions of valuing nature, and the Sustainable Development Goals are one of the more ambitious attempts to re-evaluate and change our choices to more sustainable ones.
In October 2022, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its “Assessment Report on Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature” after the approval of its 139 member states in July 2022. The report answers the call of decision-makers to balance different approaches in economic, social, and environmental dimensions to valuing nature and nature’s contributions to people. While economic and political decisions often prioritized instrumental values of nature, the report reveals that supporting more diverse values and integrating Indigenous and local knowledge with scientific knowledge have much more just and sustainable outcomes. The Value Assessment was prepared by 82 experts from 47 countries over four years, drawing on more than 13000 references. While the IPBES released both a summary for policymakers and a set of six chapters in total, we chose to focus on the third chapter (Termansen et al. 2022) which was co-authored by the SESI member Berta Martín-López and five Leuphana students: Hanne Carla Bisjak, Jeanne Freitag, Mira Kracke, Rieke Schneider, and Alyssa Solvie.

In the third chapter, Termansen et al. describe key considerations for making valuation choices and provide guidance for improving valuation practices. They base their analysis on systematic in-depth reviews, meta-reviews, method reviews of different disciplines, and content analysis of contributions by different (thematic) experts, including Indigenous and local knowledge holders. Through synthesizing the existing knowledge of valuation practices, the authors determined the range of existing valuations, how they are applied, where there are limitations and to what extent they can contribute to justice and sustainability.

Termansen et al. discovered that mainly informative and decisive reasons were underpinning valuation decisions,  indicating that valuations try to provide decision-makers with actionable recommendations. But as valuations are often not implemented into active decision-making processes, this aim remains hypothetical. To change this, the authors propose to support better collaborations between academia and stakeholders, especially with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC).

Although there are more than 50 different methods applicable for valuation, Termansen et al. discovered most studies only exercise one at a time. As these methods are limited to eliciting only certain values, studies cannot encompass an analysis of all existing values of nature. Implementing several complementary methods could change this and increase the robustness of the valuation. Such an approach makes interdisciplinary teams and capacity building necessary to guarantee a cultural and socio-economic context-sensitive practice. Also, an awareness of the potential limitations of methods and their findings remains crucial. Plural valuation can facilitate more comprehensive assessments of instrumental, intrinsic, and relational values, expressed by different stakeholders and depending on an IPLC or non-IPLC context.

The assessment of the different valuation studies revealed a lack of comprehensive stakeholder inclusion. Often, authors did not address whose values were represented in their studies and do not disclose if the included stakeholders were representative of all affected actor groups. Issues of power and justice remain just as elusive. According to Termansen et al., results suggest that valuations currently are conducted by powerful valuators and with little to no participation of local stakeholders. This makes us to reflect whose values and perspectives are considered in the respective decision-making context. Lastly, to support a valuation’s goal and decrease the risk of misinformed decisions, a valuation needs to be robust in regard to its legitimacy and theoretical consistency, and accuracy. Providing practical guidance that is sensitive to the purpose of a valuation can help establish this robustness.

Valuation of nature can advise decision-makers in creating future courses of action and design of policy instruments, but it needs to account for all types of values, enable stakeholder participation, and implement inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches. Implemented like this, the approach will foster human well-being, ecological sustainability, and justice of decision-making processes, bringing us a few steps closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and alleviating the biodiversity crisis.

For more information, you can download the Summary for Policymakers or the individual chapters including the one by Termansen et al. 2022 here.


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