In spite of immense technological progress, our economies and societies still fundamentally depend on nature to provide us with a hospitable climate. It is time to fully realise this, scientists argue in a new article. Photo: T. H. Snickars/Azote

Reconnecting to the Biosphere

We seem to have disconnected ourselves from nature, its high time to reconnect, scientists argue

Over last 200 years, and particularly after World War II, a steady wealthier, healthier, more interacting and technically savvy world has contributed to boost the standard of living of most people, although three billion people still live on less than 2.5 USD a day.
 
But the Earth's ecosystems have started to show serious signs of fatigue. The 2005 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), the first 'global health control' of the world's ecosystems, showed that some 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support human well-being are being degraded or used unsustainably.
 
The assessment helped clarify that people and societies are indeed inseparable parts of what we call the biosphere — the global ecological system that embraces all living beings on Earth and in the atmosphere.

Time for a new social contract
The message from the MA is echoed in the three scientific background papers prepared for the recent Stockholm Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability.

The papers were recently published in Ambio and argue that it is high time we reconnect and start accounting for and governing the capacity of natural capital to sustain development.
 
The first article, entitled "Reconnecting to the Biosphere" argues that "it is time for a new social contract for global sustainability rooted in a shift of perception — from people and nature seen as separate parts to interdependent social-ecological systems."
 
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Accounting for nature's capital
A substantial challenge is to ensure that the provisioning of ecosystem services becomes more visible in the market. Putting a price on ecosystem services is gaining increasing interest among researchers and policy makers.

Although the scientific basis and financial and political mechanisms are still under development, there are several promising efforts.

For instance, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report calls for wider recognition of nature's contribution to human livelihoods, health, security and culture  by decision makers at all levels (local, regional and national policy makers, business leaders and private citizens). The report concluded that in 2008 the annual costs of forest losses alone (2—5 trillion USD) dwarfed the ongoing financial crisis.

In other words, the world was losing more money from the disappearance of  forest ecosystem services alone than through the banking crisis that year. The TEEB report has helped place biodiversity management on the high end of the political agenda, showcasing the enormous economic value of forests, freshwater, soils and coral reefs, to name but a few.

Acknowledging the key demands of the TEEB report, India has already announced plans to implement a new set of accounts, which track the country's natural capital and include the value of nature's services alongside GDP in decision-making. China is another country where natural capital investments and payments for ecosystem services are now being integrated into governance on a remarkable scale.

The governance of global dynamics
Raising awareness about the dynamic interactions between social and ecological systems is one thing, coming up with new ways to govern them is quite another.

A move from rigid sector based resource management to more adaptive ecosystem-based management is slowly gaining momentum.

Ecosystem-based management is an adaptive management approach that does not simply seek to manage human impacts on ecosystems. It also recognises that the capacity of an ecosystem to generate goods and services is shaped by humans and acknowledges the importance of their actions, including collaboration among individuals, networks, organisations, agencies, researchers and local resource users.

Research suggests that flexible social networks and organisations built on adaptive learning are in a better position to sustain and manage ecological systems.

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Source: Folke, C., Jansson, Å., Rockström, J., Olsson, P., Carpenter, S., Chapin, F., Crépin, A.S., Daily, G., Danell, K., Ebbesson, J., Elmqvist, T., Galaz, V., Moberg, F., Nilsson, M., Österblom, H., Ostrom, E., Persson, Å., Peterson, G., Polasky, S., Steffen, W., Walker, B., Westley, F. (2011) Reconnecting to the Biosphere. AMBIO, 0044-7447. Doi: 10.1007/s13280-011-0184-y

References

Citation

Folke, C., Jansson, Å., Rockström, J., Olsson, P., Carpenter, S., Chapin, F., Crépin, A.S., Daily, G., Danell, K., Ebbesson, J., Elmqvist, T., Galaz, V., Moberg, F., Nilsson, M., Österblom, H., Ostrom, E., Persson, Å., Peterson, G., Polasky, S., Steffen, W., Walker, B., Westley, F. (2011) Reconnecting to the Biosphere. AMBIO, 0044-7447. Doi: 10.1007/s13280-011-0184-y

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