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The lack of progress in reversing the declining global trend in biodiversity is partly due to a mismatch between how living nature is conceived and valued by the conservation movement on the one hand, and by many different people, including marginalized communities, on the other. Addressing this problem calls for a pluralistic perspective on biodiversity. This requires consideration of the use of the concept of biodiversity, willingness to expand its ambit, and engagement with the multiple and multi-level drivers of change. We propose ways for conservation science, policy and practice to deliver more effective and socially just conservation outcomes.
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1Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), Leioa, Spain. 2Basque Foundation for Science (Ikerbasque), Bilbao, Spain. 3Centre for Development and
Environment, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland. 4Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. 5Centre for International
Environmental Studies, The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland. 6Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (IMBIV), CONICET, Córdoba,
Argentina. 7FCEFyN, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina. 8Centre for Environment & Development, ATREE, Bengaluru, India. 9University
College London, London, UK. 10Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands. e-mail:
Despite about a century and a half of action by policymak-
ers and conservation organizations, global biodiversity is
in peril. Although the main driver of biodiversity loss is
the unsustainable human appropriation of ecosystem products and
ecosystem transformations to other uses1,2, the application of the
concept of biodiversity, particularly as it has been conventionally
understood and generally used by conservationists, also constrains
efforts to address its declining trend.
Societies across the world have had long-standing traditions
of using and caring for nature, but the formal, mainstream and
largely western ‘conservation movement’ is only about 120 years
old3. Discourses about why biodiversity matters and how it should
be governed are dominated by ideas nurtured by this movement,
in turn aligned with—and legitimized by—normative positions in
science, particularly by conservation biology4,5. Much of the histori-
cal focus of the mainstream conservation movement has been on
charismatic species and/or wilderness, driven by specific notions
of the aesthetic and/or spiritual values of nature3,6. This focus has
remained mostly unchanged since the term was coined and started
to gain traction in the 1980s7 and spread to all parts of the policy
arena, especially through its incorporation into the 1992 UN
Convention on Biological Diversity.
As defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity, biodi-
versity encompasses not only the diversity of species, but also the
diversity within species and of ecosystems. The popularity of the
biodiversity concept rests on the fact that its three-tiered defini-
tion (diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems)
provides a ‘big tent’ that encompasses a variety of interests within
the modern conservation movement. In practice, however, conser-
vation organizations have often continued to champion their par-
ticular brands or objects of conservation while adopting the banner
term ‘biodiversity conservation. This approach works for them
because their immediate objectives, the conservation of rare species
or wild ecosystems, are justified by the apparent universality of the
concept of biodiversity, as are the resulting policy recommendations
to set up exclusive islands of ‘pristine’ areas within a rapidly expand-
ing agrarian, industrial and urban world3,8,9.
The assumptions underlying these recommendations are, how-
ever, problematic. The idea that one can identify and set aside such
pristine landscapes is based on erroneous assumptions about past
human modification10,11. It is widely accepted that the imposi-
tion of Euro-American ideas of ‘wild’ nature through colonial and
neo-colonial regimes has had dire consequences for those who have
a different, but no less legitimate, relationship with nature, such
as local (often Indigenous) communities practising combinations
of agri-pastoralism, shifting cultivation or hunting-gathering that
incorporate multiple values of nature12.
In the 2000s, an attempt to resolve the tension between the use/
tangible/material/instrumental values and the non-use/intangible/
spiritual/intrinsic values of nature was made in a turn towards a
more pragmatic and utilitarian argument for biodiversity conserva-
tion, through the ecosystem services lens13. This approach empha-
sizes the direct and indirect material benefits that people derive
from ‘natural’ (read ‘wild’) ecosystems14. Although disputed, it has
found favour with an important section of the conservation move-
ment, because it is assumed that the biocentric (wilderness) and
anthropocentric (products and services) worldviews about nature
can coexist and even reinforce each other. In fact, these perspec-
tives may be poorly aligned. Conservation actions that focus on the
protection of charismatic wildlife species do not necessarily overlap
with actions to maintain the integrity of the ecosystems to produce
other ecosystem benefits, whether they are direct benefits such as
forest products, or indirect benefits such as the regulation of local
water flows, or of global climate15,16.
Whether under the banner of the intrinsic values of nature (for
example wilderness) or instrumental values (for example ecosys-
tem services), conventional calls from the mainstream conserva-
tion movement for the protection of biodiversity obscure and even
crowd out other meanings and understandings of what ‘living
nature’2,17 (or simply ‘nature’) is. Too often, conservationists turn a
blind eye to the diverse ways in which humans experience and live
with/in/from/as nature18,19, and to the diversity of arguments about
why humans should care about other forms of life, even while simul-
taneously using them to lead a human life4. Paradoxically, the call
from a dominant section of the conservation movement to protect
biodiversity as ‘pristine nature’ is most often made by those embed-
ded within the modern industrial and urbanized world20, who
tend to ignore the views and values held about nature by local
Biodiversity and the challenge of pluralism
Unai Pascual 1,2,3 ✉ , William M. Adams4,5, Sandra Díaz 6,7, Sharachchandra Lele8,
Georgina M. Mace 9 and Esther Turnhout 10
The lack of progress in reversing the declining global trend in biodiversity is partly due to a mismatch between how living
nature is conceived and valued by the conservation movement on the one hand, and by many different people, including mar-
ginalized communities, on the other. Addressing this problem calls for a pluralistic perspective on biodiversity. This requires
consideration of the use of the concept of biodiversity, willingness to expand its ambit, and engagement with the multiple and
multi-level drivers of change. We propose ways for conservation science, policy and practice to deliver more effective and
socially just conservation outcomes.
PersPective NATure SuSTAiNAbiliTy
communities living in a much more symbiotic relationship,
and much less destructive lifestyles vis-a-vis nature21. Thus, a
single-minded pursuit of a narrow notion of biodiversity conser-
vation, when coupled with inattention to the social justice impli-
cations and the social position of the conservationists themselves,
results not only in conflict and human suffering, but also in a loss of
legitimacy for the wider idea of biodiversity conservation.
Although voices have already called for self-reflection about
the norms and values that guide the field22, and for a new inclusive
conservation ethic23, conservation biologists remain reluctant to
recognize the normativity of the field. As the recent book Effective
Conservation Science: Data Not Dogma illustrates, many conserva-
tion biologists continue to hold on to flawed beliefs about value-free
objectivity24. Most of the literature adopts a singular conceptualiza-
tion of biodiversity, justifying this as scientific without reflecting on
the implications of the dominant metrics available for equity and
social justice in conservation practice25. Here, we consider the role
of conservation science, the definitions and concepts it employs, and
their effects on conservation policy and practice. We discuss some
of the challenges and opportunities that would unfold in exploring
a pluralistic perspective on biodiversity.
Biodiversity is one scientific description of living nature, and
biodiversity conservation can be seen as a fuzzy constellation of
social processes and organizations that attach normative content
to it. Hence, understanding how biodiversity is conceptualized and
employed matters greatly. As a concept, biodiversity does not just
have a representational function in science; it also creates power-
ful frames and narratives that are linked to normative positions,
for instance about what biodiversity change matters most and why,
what causes biodiversity loss, and what responses are available to
deal with the problem. Such narratives eventually shape conser-
vation agendas, which in turn determine what knowledge is pro-
duced, which interventions are considered possible and desirable,
and which options get excluded26,27. Unpacking the values behind
the biodiversity concept is therefore a useful starting point.
‘Biodiversity’ as a meeting point
Conservationists often assert that biodiversity must be preserved
without explicitly detailing the specific interpretation or definition
of biodiversity they draw on and why. They tend to take biodiver-
sity indicators and metrics for granted, without sufficient reflexiv-
ity about the broader values that are connected with such metrics.
In so doing, conservationists jump from describing biodiversity, to
problematizing its loss under particular value systems, to arguing
for particular conservation goals and actions. The values behind
defining biodiversity intermingle with facts about what is happen-
ing to it, and recommendations about what should be done. This
is inevitable, as all action and knowledge production rely on nor-
mative interpretations of reality. But it is important to consider the
implications of the specific way the conservation movement frames
the problem, and promotes its own conceptualization of biodiver-
sity, especially because this has direct implications for people.
Of course, any singular way of conceptualizing biodiver-
sity excludes other ways of defining, knowing and valuing it. But
the dominance of the common scientific interpretation matters.
When conservationists ignore or set aside other understandings
of non-human life and other human needs and worldviews, often
under the guise of scientific objectivity or universalism, the result-
ing conservation actions may lack broad social legitimacy and effec-
tiveness, often ending up being opposed by people with different
value systems and interests. Thus, an agenda for conservation sci-
ence, practice and policy derived from a singular conceptualization
of biodiversity will necessarily be narrow, creating a weak founda-
tion for more effective collaborations between conservation pro-
fessionals and people (for example, Indigenous peoples) who hold
different normative positions about how the living world should be
conceptualized and managed. In reality, people have always related
to the variety of living things in a range of different ways, deter-
mined by their own value systems, experiences and abilities to work
with nature28,29.
In view of its many different interpretations, biodiversity should
be conceptualized in a pluralistic way. This should be seen as an
opportunity to acknowledge people’s different perspectives on
what should be conserved and why. If the concept of biodiversity
is to be useful as a tool for conservation, it must become part of a
wider engagement with diverse knowledge and value systems about
nature. This would facilitate new alliances among diverse interest
groups in pursuit of fairness in conservation30,31. A pluralistic per-
spective on biodiversity could also facilitate communication across
academic disciplines by applying a shared vocabulary, even though
its precise interpretation may vary23.
A pluralistic perspective on biodiversity would require an
open-minded engagement with at least two questions: what does
humanity need/want from the rest of the living world?, and how can
we collectively get there? In turn, it must be acknowledged that the
answers to both questions will necessarily be plural and therefore
any ‘answers’ have to be arrived at through a process that is fair and
just if they are to be socially legitimate. In addition, the acceptance
of a pluralistic perspective would require the modern-day conserva-
tion movement to give up its position of moral authority and power
in answering these questions. In other words, it would require the
movement to place its notion of what to conserve and why along-
side other understandings of the value of nature and human–nature
relations in answering the first question, rather than insisting that
their notions are scientifically derived and therefore automatically
superior. Of course, this shift would also require recognizing and
accepting other needs and wants of legitimate stakeholders, includ-
ing a life with dignity and freedom. Answering the second question
would require the identification of legitimate bases of collaboration
between groups located at very different positions on the spectrums
of proximity to the living world and of dignity and freedom3234.
Biodiversity science is in fact well positioned to promote such
a pluralistic agenda given the multiple ways in which biodiversity
is represented in academic disciplines, such as in ecology and biol-
ogy, economics, and social sciences and humanities. In many areas
of biology, the established definition of biodiversity works well,
although ecologists and geneticists (and those within conservation
science drawing from these disciplines) would draw attention to
different levels of ecological organization. For example, population
geneticists and crop scientists focus on interspecific genetic varia-
tion, community ecologists concentrate on how many species are
at a site and how they interact with each other, macroecologists and
biogeographers look at how species number and biomass change
with latitude, and biogeochemists quantify how much carbon and
nutrients are cycled by ecosystems on the planet35. Yet, other ecolo-
gists/biologists look at production, nutrient flow and regulation in
both natural and managed ecosystems. Economists interpret biodi-
versity and its values differently, for example as a stock of ‘natural
capital’ amenable to optimal portfolio asset management36, as global
public insurance for social-ecological resilience37 or as a feature
essential to human existence38. The environmental social sciences
and humanities also apply a diversity of views on biodiversity and
nature, including various philosophical approaches that distinguish
between intrinsic, instrumental and relational values39,40, and for
example, environmental anthropology starts from the entwinement
of nature and culture and considers nature as socially, culturally and
ecologically co-produced41.
It is also important to acknowledge and include lay knowledge
in the mix of conservation knowledge; particularly the situated,
emotive and intimate character of much of lay knowledge (local or
Indigenous, for example) about nature42 and its focus on how to live
well with nature18. This means that the multiple entanglements of
NATure SuSTAiNAbiliTy
human and non-human life must be acknowledged. One way to do
this is by engaging with deeper interdisciplinarity as well as broader
stakeholder participation in knowledge co-production43,44.
By mobilizing an appropriate mix of scientific and lay knowl-
edge, conservation science, policy and practice would be better
equipped to identify and facilitate more legitimate and effective
goals and actions, for instance through different approaches to pro-
tected areas12,45 or through payments for ecosystem services46,47. Too
often such interventions are contested by lay people when they draw
from unfamiliar and externally based worldviews21.
The pluralistic understanding and use of the biodiversity con-
cept that we advocate aims to go beyond mere ‘inclusion, or ‘diver-
sity’ and emphasizes the political, equity and justice dimensions of
conservation. As part of this, the conservation movement will have
to grapple with some fundamental problems of its own, includ-
ing (1) being silent about the political claims made by particular
conservation organizations on behalf of either all life on earth or
for all humankind48; (2) treating post-colonial states and their
institutional structures as legitimate, and thereby transgressing
Indigenous rights and failing to take proper account of the lack of
democratic legitimacy of some states20; and (3) accepting and thus
legitimizing private (for profit) corporations as legitimate actors,
even where their rights to territory are acquired from corrupt insti-
tutional state structures, using methods that do not reflect local
needs and rights9,49. In addition, it is crucial to institutionalize delib-
erative mechanisms, appropriate to each social-ecological context50,
to find fair means to deal with the social and political choices and
trade-offs that may be associated with conservation action, espe-
cially as the potential losers are usually historically disempowered
local communities45,48,51,52. Before such deliberative mechanisms are
put in place, it is also critical to disentangle the multiple causes of
the decline of biodiversity, including the direct drivers as well as
deeper, more structural causes. We now turn to this aspect.
Plural drivers of biodiversity decline
Recognizing the different understandings of what biodiversity is
and why it is important is an essential step towards pluralism, but
it is not sufficient on its own. One also has to know why biodiver-
sity, in its different forms, is being lost, and what combinations of
actions at multiple scales might slow down or reverse the destruc-
tion of nature in particular contexts. In other words, one has to
unpack what are commonly called the drivers of biodiversity loss
and nature decline1,53,54 or—drawing on our plural characterization
above—what kinds of human actions and social processes are lead-
ing to the undermining of facets of nature and what makes those
actions and processes persist.
Unfortunately, existing driver-based analyses often suffer from
some of the same problems discussed earlier, related to narrow and
singular conceptualizations about human–nature relationships.
These involve (1) an excessive focus on identifying aggregate and
abstract processes that drive biodiversity change; (2) the fetishiza-
tion of singular metrics required to apply a formula-driven frame-
work at the expense of more plural explanations of nature decline
and its impacts (for example, the drivers–pressures–state–impacts–
responses framework); and (3) the polarization between apolitical
and political explanations of the key drivers of change. We briefly
address these points in turn.
First, there has been a strong tendency to cast explanation in
universal or globalized terms. Although it is useful to identify the
biggest drivers of biodiversity or biological resource decline as
resource overexploitation (the harvesting of wild organisms at rates
that cannot be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth) and
land-cover change for agriculture (the production of food, fodder,
fibre and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultiva-
tion of trees)55 at the global scale, these analyses have often been car-
ried out in an aggregate way without distinguishing these processes
in terms of localities or actors (for example, agribusiness corpora-
tions, private investors, government sectors and so on), although
this has recently begun to change56,57. Thus, driver-based studies
should go further to tease out what sectors are responsible for harm-
ful activities and who benefits from them, and provide context as to
the localities and actors—is it large-scale ranching for beef produc-
tion for global markets or cereal production by smallholder farmers
for subsistence? A surfeit of analyses focusing only on proximate
causes has led to the formulation of solutions that are simplistic with
no lasting ecological benefits at best, and often downright unjust
at worst, such as arming guards with shoot-to-kill powers in pro-
tected areas9,58. They also deflect attention from deeper, structural
processes such as global capital(ism) that promotes consumerism
everywhere59. Furthermore, aggregate global analyses encourage a
focus on “Herculean, long-standing problems55, which can be para-
lysing, and fail to question overly simplistic solutions, including the
removal of people from the landscapes where they live, a focus on
behaviour change and education, the isolation of wild nature from
human influence, or a forceful return to a pre-human or wilderness
Second, scientific analyses of drivers generally risk reducing bio-
diversity to a set of singular indices, reflecting a desire to let science
drive policy at the expense of opening space for other ways of under-
standing the natural world and thus for deliberation. In addition, as
biodiversity cannot be simply reduced to a singular index, the prob-
lem itself is much more complicated than, for example, the conven-
tional drivers–pressures–state–impacts–responses framework can
handle54,60,61. There are multiple explanations for the many causes
behind the continued decline of biodiversity. Economics thinking
tends to make assumptions about human beings as largely indepen-
dent rational actors, and therefore encourages the use of nudging
to find win–win solutions62. Political ecologists, on the other hand,
may give primacy to colonial and post-colonial structures of power
that deprive local communities of land rights, leading to state–com-
munity conflict, and may therefore recommend restoration of these
rights and particularly respect to the worldviews of Indigenous
people and local communities4,51 as a first step towards sustain-
able management of nature. Others may emphasize macro-level
institutional failure based on ever-expanding capital accumulation
as the overarching single cause of the ongoing ecological crisis59,63.
Although these approaches may not be entirely incompatible, the
exploration of common ground is prevented as much by academic
silos as by differences in researchers’ normative lenses about sus-
tainability and equity64.
Finally, social analysis of outcomes for biodiversity change has
been stacked into ‘apolitical’ explanations that narrowly focus on
population-pressure-based explanations for the loss of construed
‘pristine’ nature, and more ‘political’ (structural) explanations that
combine concerns for social justice and acknowledgement of cultur-
ally co-constructed notions about nature, with other explanations
such as common property theory positioned in between65. This
polarization allows conservation groups to focus on what seems
doable, given the reality of dominant political economic structures,
rather than on what needs to be done. They therefore prioritize
less politically sensitive, and more palatable, forms of action such
as education, communication or behaviour nudging rather than
tougher political action around rights, democratic processes and
accountability of powerful government and corporate actors.
An agenda for science, policy and practice
A pluralistic approach to conceptualizing biodiversity demands
deep reflexivity by each social actor towards recognizing the nor-
mative positions grafted into their own interpretation of the con-
cept of biodiversity, as well as the values of other actors, leading to
an understanding of the different reasons why people care about it,
and what the ‘it’ is. Scientists, policymakers, and conservationists
PersPective NATure SuSTAiNAbiliTy
need to accept the existence of a constellation of voices, including
those of traditionally marginalized people whose livelihoods most
directly depend on nature, to come up with fairer conservation
interventions. Such a pluralistic perspective could be constructed,
but the crux of the matter would still lie in understanding what
people actually want to capture into decision-making, the diversity
of perspectives on what needs to be governed, what the objectives of
conservation should be and what options exist for interventions to
attain such objectives.
For conservation science and practice to take on this challenge,
the first step is to come to grips with the fact that current ways of
working have created problems. Thus, it is important to reflect on
not just the lack of effectiveness of conservation approaches in halt-
ing biodiversity loss, but also their negative outcomes for social jus-
tice. Consideration must be given to the ways in which the concepts
and knowledge used in these approaches are complicit in perpetuat-
ing, invisibilizing and justifying these negative outcomes. Reforms
within the current mainstream conservation paradigm that miss the
larger picture are ultimately bound to fail. It must be accepted that
many people, especially those more directly dependent on biodiver-
sity, may not value nature in the ways articulated in the conserva-
tion movements dominant discourses and approaches, and that the
conservation of charismatic species is often an extension of the con-
sumptive lifestyles of more affluent societies or sectors (as expressed
in long-haul wildlife tourism by the wealthy, for example).
Questions that must be addressed in the search for a forward-
looking focus on human–nature relationships that accounts for peo-
ple’s needs and aspirations include: (1) What patterns of biodiver-
sity are needed to attain given objectives, such as obtaining aesthetic
pleasure, maintaining ecosystem processes, delivering ecosystem
benefits or meeting a moral imperative with respect to other spe-
cies? (2) What might the trade-offs among these nature-related
objectives be, and between them and other concerns such as
well-being and poverty alleviation, social justice or democracy,
and are there ways to attribute costs and responsibilities fairly and
minimize these trade-offs?; and (3) What micro- and macro-level
obstacles, including political ones, will make it difficult to achieve a
given outcome with its attendant social-ecological trade-offs? These
questions should be addressed from a pluralistic perspective, noting
that the extent of plurality and what perspectives are legitimately
considered is a difficult political issue.
On the basis of all the arguments above, we propose ways to
move conservation science, policy and practice forward, while nur-
turing a pluralistic conceptualization of biodiversity as a meeting
point (Fig. 1).
First we focus on conservation science. By strictly equating
biodiversity with living (non-human) nature, rather than treating
biodiversity as one possible framing of living nature broadly con-
ceived2,17, conservation science risks missing the essence of a plural
perspective on biodiversity, as well as disconnecting scientific values
and practices from those of lay people. It follows that the problem
formulation should not start with the ecological and then address
the social aspects, nor the other way around. Conservation science
needs to adopt a relational lens66 that is sensitive to how the ecologi-
cal (richness, abundance, composition, distribution and functions
of non-human organisms) and the social–cultural (human prac-
tices or care or management, the different values people attribute
to nature) continuously co-produce each other. This could help
develop a richer set of definitions, metrics and methodologies to
understand human–nature relationships and practices and design
appropriate responses and policy interventions.
Second, conservation science needs to accept the need to expand
from a predominant focus on ‘pristine’ ecosystems to include what
are traditionally called ‘disturbed’ ecosystems, acknowledging also
that almost all ecosystems are modified by humans at some level11,67.
Knowledge about these ecosystems must itself emerge through a
process of co-production, with special space for historically mar-
ginalized groups, as this would improve both the robustness and
legitimacy of the knowledge produced.
Third, scientists need to take a multi-causal approach to under-
standing biodiversity change, identifying who causes and benefits
from the destruction of nature, and unpacking how, when and why
certain values and interests may or may not translate into conser-
vation policy and practice. This requires not only collaboration
• Improve understanding of biodiversity value
systems to describe living nature
• Co-produce interdisciplinary knowledge
• Address place-based multi-layered drivers
of change
• Reflect on our own latent values
• Engage with diverse legitimate biodiversity
• Deliberate and negotiate conservation action
with local actors
• Practice procedural ethics for openness,
learning and adaptation
• Recognize biodiversity–society
interactions across sectors
• Address the political structures that
condition dichotomous thinking about
conservation and development
Fig. 1 | An agenda for a pluralistic perspective about biodiversity in science, policy and practice. Arrows indicate the need for expanding interactions
among science, policy and practice to grapple with the plurality of biodiversity/living nature, given people’s multiple worldviews, values and knowledge
NATure SuSTAiNAbiliTy
between different disciplines23, but also some dovetailing of their
explanatory capacities. One way to enable this might be to promote
much more place-based research. Even if declining trends of biodi-
versity is a global problem, the form it takes, the interests that define
it and the combination of processes that shape it are context specific,
and so are the solutions.
Fourth, we, as scientists, need to be more reflexive about our own
latent values and normative positions about nature22,23,64,68. This will
involve questions about how research is defined and what values and
assumptions are included or ignored in reaching research findings,
whose interests the resulting knowledge serves, whose voices might
not be heard and whose needs might not be met by the research
process16,26. To aid this reflection, we need to recognize and learn
to grapple with non-mainstream ways of knowing. In short, what
is required is a commitment to diversity, openness to contestation,
and more humility and accountability to all those who are directly
or indirectly affected by scientific research69.
Turning to conservation practice, we suggest that the conserva-
tion movement should acknowledge that there is no agreed generic
‘we’ in conservation, nor an entirely obvious ‘what’; it is there-
fore crucial to recognize that conservation practice and envisaged
outcomes have to be deliberated upon and eventually negotiated,
given wicked trade-offs stemming from conservation action. How
to achieve conservation should ultimately depend on what people
want and consider legitimate and acceptable. This will require the
conservation movement to reflect about socially just procedures for
making conservation decisions44,70. Instead of technocratic projects
that are introduced in a top-down manner, practices need be guided
by procedural ethics that is committed to openness, learning and
Finally, what are the consequences of pluralistic thinking for
biodiversity policy? As long as policymakers see only urban (often
rather rich and rather vocal) conservationists as ‘the’ voice of con-
servation, and uncritically accept their particular understanding
and values about biodiversity as the only ones that are valid, they
will continue to rely on a narrow set of policy approaches such as
those based on conserving certain pockets while turning a blind eye
to the ravaging of the rest of living nature in the name of economic
growth. But if a new conservation science captures the multiple
goals and values of biodiversity, builds bridges among a broader
set of nature-concerned citizens, and challenges the structures that
condition the nature versus human well-being dichotomous think-
ing, this in turn would eventually result in mainstreaming nature
concerns into policies across sectors by policymakers.
To conclude, what scientists, conservationists and policymak-
ers call biodiversity is interpreted and used in different ways, all of
which are potentially relevant and legitimate. It is time to be more
sensitive to this breadth of values and their implications, including
analysis of the multiple causalities behind the destruction of living
nature. This would need to be aligned with conservation policy
and practice that foster fairer decision-making, explicitly taking
into account the triad of social equity (recognition of the diversity
of voices, meaningful participation of relevant actors and fair dis-
tribution of benefits and burdens) when carrying out conservation
Received: 30 July 2020; Accepted: 16 February 2021;
Published: xx xx xxxx
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We would like to offer a humble tribute to the life and ideas of Georgina M. Mace who as
co-author of this paper, was a firm supporter of the role of interdisciplinary biodiversity
science for improving the quality of life of all people on Earth. We thank the Luc
Hoffman Institute for inviting us to be part of the Biodiversity Revisited project, which
created a fertile space among conservation scientists, policymakers and practitioners,
and nurtured dialogue among the authors of this article. U.P. was supported under
the Basque Centre for Climate Change ‘Unit of Excellence’ (Spanish Ministry of
Economy and Competitiveness; grant number MDM-2017-0714). S.D. was supported
by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI; grant number SDG
090), CONICET and Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. S.L. was supported by the
NERC-Formas-DBT project ‘Nature4SDGs’ (grant number BT/IN/TaSE/73/SL/2018-19).
Author contributions
U.P. led the writing of the paper and W.M.A., S.D., S.L., G.M.M. and E.T. all contributed
equally to the writing and editing.
Competing interests
The authors declare no competing interests.
Additional information
Correspondence should be addressed to U.P.
Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Bernd Hansjürgens and the other,
anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Reprints and permissions information is available at
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in
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© Springer Nature Limited 2021
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Narratives shape human understanding and underscore policy, practice and action. From individuals to multilateral institutions, humans act based on collective stories. As such, narratives have important implications for revisiting biodiversity. There have been growing calls for a ‘new narrative’ to underpin efforts to address biodiversity decline that, for example, foreground optimism, a more people-centred narrative or technological advances. This review presents some of the main contemporary narratives from within the biodiversity space to reflect on their underpinning categories, myths and causal assumptions. It begins by reviewing various interpretations of narrative, which range from critical views where narrative is a heuristic for understanding structures of domination, to advocacy approaches where it is a tool for reimagining ontologies and transitioning to sustainable futures. The work reveals how the conservation space is flush with narratives. As such, efforts to search for a ‘new narrative’ for conservation can be usefully informed by social science scholarship on narratives and related constructs and should reflect critically on the power of narrative to entrench old ways of thought and practice and, alternatively, make space for new ones. Importantly, the transformative potential of narrative may not lie in superficial changes in messaging, but in using narrative to bring multiple ways of knowing into productive dialogue to revisit biodiversity and foster critical reflection.
Biodiversity research is replete with scientific studies depicting future trajectories of decline that have failed to mobilize transformative change. Imagination and creativity can foster new ways to address longstanding problems to create better futures for people and the planet.
Plural valuation is about eliciting the diverse values of nature articulated by different stakeholders in order to inform decision making and thus achieve more equitable and sustainable outcomes. We explore what approaches align with plural valuation on the ground, as well as how different social-ecological contexts play a role in translating plural valuation into decisions and outcomes. Based on a co-constructed analytical approach relying on empirical information from ten cases from the Global South, we find that plural valuation contributes to equitable and sustainable outcomes if the valuation process: 1) is based on participatory value elicitation approaches; 2) is framed with a clear action-oriented purpose; 3) provides space for marginalized stakeholders to articulate their values in ways that can be included in decisions; 4) is used as a tool to identify and help reconcile different cognitive models about human-nature relations; and 5) fosters open communication and collaboration among stakeholders. We also find that power asymmetries can hinder plural valuation. As interest and support for undertaking plural valuation grows, a deeper understanding is needed regarding how it can be adapted to different purposes, approaches, and social-ecological contexts in order to contribute to social equity and sustainability.
As we live in a capitalist system, based on the competitive search for profit and the reinvestment of such profit, great attention should be paid to how wealth concentration and the investment of such wealth impact on the biosphere. Global wealth has been estimated at 360 trillion US$. If we succeed in finding investment opportunities for all this wealth, what will be the environmental consequences? If we fail, what will be the economic ones?