Values, accounting and policy demands

[from the floors]

By Katrin Reuter, NeFo-Team

The question of addressing and including different values and value systems into IPBES is addressed in two documents at IPBES-3. Despite questions regarding values and valuation are usually difficult and controversial, on Tuesday evening the presented conceptualization appeared to have chances of being supported and approved. 

The first of the two documents, which is a working document that is to be considered for approval, has the title „Scoping report for the methodological assessment on the diverse conceptualization of multiple values of nature and its benefits, including biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services” (IPBES/3/8). The second one, which is a corresponding document to the other one and which is suggested for acknowledgement and the further direction of work, has title “Preliminary guide regarding conceptualization of multiple values of nature and it benefits, including biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services” (IPBES/3/INF/7). The documents are the outcome of the work of 41 selected experts and two workshops carried out in 2014.

Several countries, amongst them Chile, Australia and Norway, for example, uttered concern whether the presented considerations would be indeed policy relevant. Nevertheless, for a short time it seemed as if there could be achieved consensus that the suggested documents are appropriate to address the challenge of providing a framework that can address questions regarding diverse kinds of values, different kinds of valuation and different value systems.

Countries like Brazil or Bolivia as well as representatives from the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) regarded the considerations as “very complete” (Brazil) and “balanced” (Bolivia and IIFB), although Brazil suggested including global efforts like the TEEB-study (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) in the further work.

Albeit it was the fourth day of IPBES-3 and late in the evening, the discussion about the documents on values and valuation were discussed more controversial on Thursday. Chile and the USA opened the interventions with the statement that they will not approve the scoping document and that the guide would be enough. Australia repeatedly emphasized that they do not see how the assessment should meet policy demands, which was supported by Turkey. Turkey especially highlighted that economic accounting is missing, which, according to Turkey, is needed for policy advice and appropriate to meet policy demands. Later in the discussion, Chile took the same line. Furthermore, Mexico insisted that they also do not intend to approve the scoping report. The question whether there is expertise on economic accounting in the expert group was raised several times.

Other countries, including Belgium, Norway and Bolivia, as well as the co-chairing MEP-members emphasized the need for a broad coverage of values. They strongly supported the continuance of the work of the expert group and pointed out the importance of the guide for the other assessments. Furthermore, the MEP-members underlined that the group was very balanced regarding regions, disciplines and gender and that the work was very fruitful. This was supported from a MEP-member who took part in the pollination assessment. According to him, regarding the lack of knowledge about different value systems and the question of how to include them in the pollination assessment, the exchange between the particular expert groups was very useful.

Moreover, it was mentioned that the guide was developed to prepare the assessments and to identify value gaps. Accordingly, it would be a too high expectation that the guide also meets policy demands. Later in the discussion, one of the MEP-members explained that the expert group worked on the inclusion of different values with the aim to do something for biodiversity. Although talking about economic schools was not part of the work, accounting measures can be added in the guide, persons with the respective expertise are already part of the group.

Nevertheless, it was agreed on that more efforts are needed to bring the guide to a more practical level and that it lacks “the real life experience” to be carried out in assessments. Therefore, it would be good to continue the expert group, to use the guide in the several assessments and to improve it during the work.

After the interventions, a suggestion that seem to have good chances to be agreed on in the end of IPBES-3 is the continuation of the expert group until IPBES-4 next year, a 3 month open review of the guide by governments and stakeholders, which is followed by a revision of the preliminary guide and the scoping document based on the comments received.

The revision should be done in a mutually supportive way with the other assessments and contribute to the catalogue on policy support tools and methodologies and the task force on knowledge systems. Furthermore, the expert group should, in principle, stay the same, but might be expanded with a limited number of resource persons until IPBES-4 and possible strategic partners.

After the beginning of the Thursday discussion the suggested changes in the decisions might be a good solution not only in terms of consensus, which is important for the functioning of IPBES, but also regarding exchange and learning between the different expert groups and assessments as well as regarding the mutual contribution of the assessments to one another.

However, this preliminary consensus does not solve the questions whether policy needs can only or merely be met through accounting, whether accounting is the appropriate way of valuation at all, or whether policy needs do not go and should not go beyond questions of accounting. At the moment, it seems that these questions will be postponed at least one year till IPBES-4.