Bringing the human factor in biodiversity on the agenda
It is well recognized in both academia and among policy makers that biological knowledge is not enough in order to come to grips with the loss of biodiversity and the decrease in nature’s contributions to people. For the development and implementation of sustainable solutions, insights about the human society and human aspects are crucially important. Yet, there is an apparent need to increase the understanding of how social sciences contribute to the knowledge base for dealing with biodiversity related challenges and crafting promising paths forward. My starting point is that our physical environment is a cultural landscape, inhabited by people and with human decisions and human activities largely decisive for its future form and qualities. Moreover, just as there are great biophysical variations across the globe, the local and regional contexts also vary significantly when it comes to socioeconomic aspects, demography, cultures, governing systems, links to national and global structures and processes etc. The globe can, hence, be regarded as a patchwork of overlapping neighborhoods, where biophysical and sociocultural features are integrated and co-evolves in every patch as well as on overarching levels. Consequently, and following UNs Agenda 2030, issues on nature conservation are interlinked with societal dimensions, why social science insights are needed not just to address biodiversity loss but also to simultaneously address other global societal goals, including the achievement of human well-being for all.
Generally speaking, social science approaches to biodiversity and the management of land- and seascapes can be sorted into three broad categories:
- Contextual: Providing social context, documenting variability and understanding norms and practices. What societal aspects influence the physical landscape and the processes of change?
- Managerial: Examining how decision making and management can be arranged and processed. How to organize political and administrative structures? How to make decisions? How can we communicate? How to develop public participation?
- Reflected (discursive): Showing how framings, concepts and categories matter. What” accepted truths” are at hand? How are nature, culture, drivers etc. defined? How have concepts and discourses changed over time? Who identifies the problems? Who decides?
In my talk, I will particularly articulate the distinctive contributions of cultural environmental research which relates to all of these three categories. There will be a certain focus on qualitative research approaches, using examples from my own work on farmers and landscape, outdoor recreation and public participation in landscape management. I will also relate to my experiences as a member and co-chair of the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel, of the Intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES), a core body tasked to overseeing all IPBES scientific and technical functions.
Forests and climate: Walking the road together
The linkages between global atmospheric CO2 concentration and forests are numerous and nowhere more important than in the tropics, due to the large amount of carbon stored therein and the potential for rapid tree growth. Since 2005, countries around the world are thus developing guidelines to include the land use sector in internationally recognized mitigation mechanisms. The most recent IPCC report, which highlights the devastating consequences of a world more than 1.5oC warmer, further justifies the need for tropical landscapes to contribute to global emissions reduction. In this context, my presentation will examine three different aspects of climate change mitigation using tropical forests. First, because re-growing forests act on the atmosphere as a carbon pump, I will present the results of a long-term (17-year) reforestation experiment planted with plots ranging from 1–18 native tree species. This experiment asks whether tree species diversity exerts a positive effect on plot productivity and on other ecosystem functions. Second, I will examine the conditions under which payment for ecosystem services, such as carbon trading, could provide a novel livelihood strategy for the rural poor that live within and depend upon the forests. This action-research project was developed over 14 years in partnership with an Indigenous community of eastern Panama that decided to increase the carbon stock of its territory by planting timber species and agroforestry systems and by reducing deforestation. Third, my presentation will drive home the importance of finding ways to protect intact tropical forests by providing data on the carbon stocks and biodiversity riches of ancient forests at the border of Colombia. This will bring me to examine the role of protected areas and Indigenous peoples throughout Latin America as guardians of the forests.