Focus on short-term profits fuelling global biodiversity crisis, says UN report

‘Biodiversity ... is being lost faster now than at any other point in human history,’ says chair of environmental body

There is a dominant global focus on short-term profits and economic growth that is driving the biodiversity crisis across the planet, and “often excluding consideration of multiple values of nature in policy decisions”, according to a UN report released on Monday.

Approved over the weekend by representatives of the 139 member states including Ireland under the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ipbes), the assessment details how nature can provide a vital opportunity to address species loss in all parts of the world.

“Biodiversity is being lost and nature’s contributions to people are being degraded faster now than at any other point in human history,” said Ipbes chair Ana María Hernández Salgar.

“This is largely because our current approach to political and economic decisions does not sufficiently account for the diversity of nature’s values.”


To achieve sustainable development, qualitative approaches need to be incorporated into decision-making, the report says. This means properly valuing the spiritual, cultural and emotional values that nature brings to humans.

“Economic and political decisions have predominantly prioritised certain values of nature, particularly market-based instrumental values of nature, such as those associated with food produced intensively. Although often privileged in policymaking, these market values do not adequately reflect how changes in nature affect people’s quality of life,” it adds.

In addition, “policymaking overlooks the many non-market values associated with nature’s contributions to people, such as climate regulation and cultural identity”.

The study is the culmination of a four-year assessment by 82 leading scientists including specialists in social science, economics and the humanities. It also incorporates indigenous and local knowledge while building directly on the 2019 Ipbes global assessment, which identified economic growth as a key driver of nature loss, with 1 million species of plants and animals at risk of extinction.

“With more than 50 valuation methods and approaches, there is no shortage of ways and tools to make visible the values of nature,” said Prof Unai Pascual – who co-chaired the assessment.

To help policymakers better understand the very different ways in which people conceive and value nature, the report provides a novel and comprehensive typology of nature’s values, which highlights how different world views and knowledge systems influence the ways people interact with and value nature.

To make this typology useful for decision-making, the authors present differing perspectives. These include living “from, with, in and as nature”. Living from nature emphasises its capacity to provide resources for sustaining livelihoods, needs and wants of people, such as food and material goods.

“Living with nature” has a focus on life “other than human” such as the intrinsic right of fish in a river to thrive independently of human needs. Living in nature refers to the importance of nature as the setting for people’s sense of place and identity. Living as nature sees the natural world as a physical, mental and spiritual part of oneself.

The Ipbes assessment is being released at an extremely important time – in advance of the expected agreement later this year by parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity on a new global biodiversity framework for the next decade, Ms Hernández Salgar said. It is scheduled for Montreal in December.

This assessment makes “an invaluable contribution to that process, to the achievement of the [UN] sustainable development goals and to shifting all decisions towards better values-centred outcomes for people and the rest of nature”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times