Biodiversity and the challenge of pluralism

Biodiversity and the challenge of pluralism
NbS must support healthy, resilient ecosystems, and where appropriate increase biodiversity. But there isn't universal agreement as to what "biodiversity" or a "healthy ecosystem" is.

Pascual et al. 2021

Biodiversity is often defined in the scientific community as the diversity of life at the level of genes, species, functions and ecosystems. However, Pascual et al. explain that the way biodiversity is understood by scientists is not value-neutral. There are in fact many different ways of understanding living nature; this means it is a normative concept, i.e. one that reflects a particular way of framing living nature. The dominance of a single framing means that this way of understanding biodiversity influences dominant discourses and conservation agendas, which in turn determines which interventions in nature are considered desirable and implemented. Other ways of knowing, relating or valuing nature are largely excluded from discourses and environmental policy. This can jeopardise the social legitimacy of actions and their effectiveness.

Recognizing these diverse ways of understanding nature and biodiversity necessitates moving beyond a narrow conceptualisation of biodiversity i.e. viewing it more pluralistically. Acknowledging other perspectives can stimulate wider engagement with other knowledge and value systems about nature, in support of broader conservation alliances and more inclusive practices and policies. However, the authors recognize the challenge this poses – a diversity of views inevitably means that tensions may arise and need to be governed fairly; compromises will have to be made. Deliberative mechanisms need to be developed to grapple with these challenges.

It is not just the concept of biodiversity itself which can be understood in different ways, but also the reasons why biodiversity is being lost, and consequently the ways of slowing and reversing this loss. Currently, the dominant approach to assessing biodiversity loss are driver-based analyses; the authors explore the limitations of this approach in detail in the paper.

To address these issues the authors recommend that biodiversity researchers, policy makers and practitioners reflect on their own perspectives and values while recognizing those of others. This means accepting the existence of a ‘constellation of voices’ on biodiversity, biodiversity loss, and solutions to it. This is key to better understand the different reasons motivating people to care for nature, and to come up with more ‘just’ conservation approaches.

Moving forward the authors highlight four steps for actors in the biodiversity space:

  1. Adopt a relational lens – recognize how the ecological attributes of ecosystems and the social-cultural aspects (e.g. human practices and the different values people attribute to nature) co-produce each other. This is crucial to better understand human-nature relationships and design effective approaches in practice and policy.
  2. Promote place-based research harnessing multi-causal approaches to understanding biodiversity change focusing on who causes and benefits from the destruction of nature, and how, when and why certain values and interests influence conservation policy and practice.
  3. Researchers need to embrace diversity, contestation, humility, and accountability while engaging in reflexivity, recognizing their subjective interpretations of biodiversity, how they frame research questions, the values these support, and whose interests the knowledge serves.
  4. Recognize that conservation practice and desired outcomes have to be deliberated upon and eventually negotiated; this is at the core of social justice. Therefore, instead of top-down approaches, the focus should be on deliberative procedures committed to openness, learning, and adaptation.

Ultimately, better capturing the multiple goals and values associated with biodiversity will help build bridges among a broader constituency of concerned citizens to in turn promote the mainstreaming of nature concerns in policy. Read the paper here.

Since NbS must support healthy, resilient ecosystems and enhance biodiversity where appropriate, the paper offers points for reflection for the NbS community. For example, when designing interventions, guidelines and targets for biodiversity with respect to NbS, diverse stakeholder perspectives on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems must be taken into account. Incorporating multiple understandings of biodiversity also points to the need to reflect on how NbS themselves may represent particular standpoints, knowledges and power relations, even where they profess to offer ‘science-based’ approaches. For more on how knowledges and power shape NbS, see Woroniecki et al. 2020.