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Assessing nature’s contributions to people

Recognizing culture, and diverse sources of knowledge, can improve assessments
By Sandra Díaz, Unai Pascual, Marie Stenseke, Berta Martín-López, Robert T. Watson, Zsolt Molnár, Rosemary Hill, Kai M. A. Chan,
Ivar A. Baste, Kate A. Brauman, Stephen Polasky, Andrew Church, Mark Lonsdale, Anne Larigauderie, Paul W. Leadley, Alexander P. E.
van Oudenhoven, Felice van der Plaat, Matthias Schröter, Sandra Lavorel, Yildiz Aumeeruddy-Thomas, Elena Bukvareva, Kirsten Davies,
Sebsebe Demissew, Gunay Erpul, Pierre Failler, Carlos A. Guerra, Chad L. Hewitt, Hans Keune, Sarah Lindley, Yoshihisa Shirayama

major challenge today and into the fu- Ecosystem Assessment (MA) (2). But as we is essential not only for advancing knowledge
ture is to maintain or enhance benefi- detail below, NCP as defined and put into but also for the political legitimacy of assess-
cial contributions of nature to a good practice in IPBES differs from earlier work ment findings (3).
quality of life for all people. This is in several important ways. First, the NCP ap-
among the key motivations of the In- proach recognizes the central and pervasive FROM SERVICES TO CONTRIBUTIONS
tergovernmental Science-Policy Plat- role that culture plays in defining all links be- NCP are all the contributions, both positive
form on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services tween people and nature. Second, use of NCP and negative, of living nature (diversity of
(IPBES), a joint global effort by governments, elevates, emphasizes, and operationalizes the organisms, ecosystems, and their associated
academia, and civil society to assess and pro- role of indigenous and local knowledge in un- ecological and evolutionary processes) to

mote knowledge of Earth’s biodiversity and derstanding nature’s contribution to people. people’s quality of life (4). Beneficial contri-
ecosystems and their contribution to human The broad remit of IPBES requires it to butions include, for example, food provision,
societies in order to inform policy formula- engage a wide range of stakeholders, span- water purification, and artistic inspiration,
tion. One of the more recent key elements of ning from natural, social, humanistic, and whereas detrimental contributions include
the IPBES conceptual framework (1) is the engineering sciences to indigenous peoples disease transmission and predation that
notion of nature’s contributions to people and local communities in whose territories damage people or their assets. Many NCP
(NCP), which builds on the ecosystem ser- lie much of the world’s biodiversity. Being an may be perceived as benefits or detriments
vice concept popularized by the Millennium intergovernmental body, such inclusiveness depending on the cultural, socioeconomic,

270 19 JANUARY 2018 • VOL 359 ISSUE 6373 SCIENCE

Published by AAAS
enced policy discourse, and advanced the blended and interwoven (14), enabling co-
sustainability agenda. construction of knowledge among disciplines
However, this predominantly stock-and- and knowledge systems (fig. S2).
flow framing of people-nature relationships
largely failed to engage a range of perspec- Generalizing perspective
tives from the social sciences (6), or those Typical of the natural sciences and econom-
of local practitioners, including indigenous ics, this perspective (represented in green
peoples. This reinforced a mutual alienation at the bottom of fig. S2) is fundamentally
process in which MA-inspired studies and analytical in purpose; it seeks a universally
policies became increasingly narrow, which applicable set of categories of flows from
in turn led to voluntary self-exclusion of dis- nature to people. Distinction between them
ciplines, stakeholders, and worldviews. As a is often sharp, and agency is acknowledged
consequence, the ecosystem services research only in the case of people. NCP categories
program proceeded largely without benefit- can be seen at finer or coarser resolution
ing from insights and tools in social sciences but can still be organized into a single, self-
and humanities. For example, the unpacking consistent system.
and valuation of some “cultural ecosystem We identify 18 such categories for report-
services” not readily amenable to biophysical ing NCP within the generalizing perspec-
or monetary metrics have lagged behind (7), tive, organized in three partially overlapping
and so has their mainstreaming into policy. groups: regulating, material, and nonmate-

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In addition, as diverse disciplines and stake- rial NCP (fig. S3 and table S1), defined ac-
holders remained at the margins, the initial cording to the type of contribution they make
skepticism toward the ecosystem services to people’s quality of life.
framework turned into active opposition, of- Material contributions are substances, ob-
ten based on the perceived risks of commodi- jects, or other material elements from nature
fication of nature (8) and associated social that directly sustain people’s physical exis-
equity concerns (9). tence and material assets. They are typically
The need to be inclusive, both in terms of physically consumed in the process of being
the strands of knowledge incorporated and experienced—for example, when organisms
Nature in the form of a living root bridge representation of worldviews, interests and are transformed into food, energy, or materi-
in Meghalaya, India, contributes to people values (10), required IPBES to move to using als for ornamental purposes.
by connecting both sides of the river. NCP. Although still rooted in the MA ecosys- Nonmaterial contributions are nature’s ef-
tem services framework (fig. S1), this new ap- fects on subjective or psychological aspects
proach has the potential to firmly embed and underpinning people’s quality of life, both in-
temporal, or spatial context. For example, welcome a wider set of viewpoints and stake- dividually and collectively. Examples include
some carnivores are recognized—even by the holders. It should also be less likely to be forests and coral reefs providing opportuni-
same people—as beneficial for control of wild subsumed within a narrow economic (such ties for recreation and inspiration, or par-
ungulates but as harmful because they may as market-based) approach as the mediating ticular animals and plants being the basis of
attack livestock. factor between people and nature. spiritual or social-cohesion experiences.
At first inspection, the notion of NCP does Regulating contributions are functional
not appear to differ much from the original AN INCLUSIVE SYSTEM and structural aspects of organisms and eco-
MA definition of ecosystem services (2), The NCP approach explicitly recognizes systems that modify environmental condi-
which was broad and contemplated links that a range of views exist. At one extreme, tions experienced by people and/or regulate
to many facets of well-being. However, the humans and nature are viewed as distinct the generation of material and nonmaterial
detailed conceptualization and the practical (2); at the other, humans and nonhuman contributions. Regulating contributions fre-
work on ecosystem services following on the entities are interwoven in deep relation- quently affect quality of life in indirect ways.
MA were dominated by knowledge from the ships of kinship and reciprocal obligations For example, people directly enjoy useful or
natural sciences and economics. The natu- (11, 12). In addition, the way NCP are copro- beautiful plants but only indirectly benefit
ral sciences, and ecology in particular, were duced by nature and people is understood from the soil organisms that are essential for
used to define “ecological production func- through different cultural lenses. For in- the supply of nutrients to such plants.
tions” to determine the supply of services, stance, coproduction of food in high-diver- Culture permeates through and across all
conceptualized as flows stemming from sity agriculture can be framed as a process three broad NCP groups (fig. S1) rather than
ecosystems (stocks of natural capital) (5). that combines a set of biological and tech- being confined to an isolated category (the
Economics was used to estimate the mone- nological inputs aimed at maximizing coex- “cultural ecosystem services” category in the
tary value of those ecosystem services flows istence between useful plants and animals MA framework). In addition, the three broad
so as to identify trade-offs among them and in order to achieve higher yields. groups—rather than being independent
their impacts on well-being. Aided by ecol- Alternatively, coproduction of food can be compartments, as typically framed within
ogy and economics having readily available seen as a “practice of care” (12, 13) through the ecosystem services approach—explicitly
tools, the ecosystem services approach de- social relationships and connection with overlap. We distinguish them for practical
veloped into a vibrant research field, influ- spiritual entities. Therefore, we propose two reporting reasons, acknowledging that many
lenses through which to view NCP: a gen- of the 18 NCP categories do not fit squarely
eralizing perspective and a context-specific into a single group (fig. S3). For example,
A complete listing of affiliations is provided in the supplemen-
tary materials. Email:; perspective. Although presented here as food is primarily a material NCP because extremes, these two perspectives are often calories and nutrients are essential for physi-

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Published by AAAS

cal sustenance. However, food is full of sym- they contributed information presented in different disciplines within western science,
bolic meaning well beyond physical survival. their own narratives. In the Europe and Cen- in the science-policy interface. The NCP ap-
Indeed, nonmaterial and material contribu- tral Asia assessment, these narratives (15) proach aims at coming up with products
tions are often interlinked in most, if not all, revealed complex interactions between detri- that are better and also more legitimate and
cultural contexts (7). mental (predation on livestock) and benefi- therefore more likely to be incorporated into
cial NCP (carcass removal or protection by policy and practice.
Context-specifc perspective shepherd/guard dogs) that were not consid- In addition to assessments, environ-
This is the perspective typical, but not ex- ered in previous national ecosystem assess- mental governance and associated policies
clusive, of local and indigenous knowledge ments. This kind of evidence also enhanced would likely increase their effectiveness
systems (represented in blue at the top of the confidence about the status and trends and social legitimacy by drawing on the
fig. S2). In local and indigenous knowledge of other NCP in cases in which the evidence NCP approach. This is because it facilitates
systems, the production of knowledge typi- based on published literature was scarce much more than previous framings the
cally does not explicitly seek to extend or vali- (such as for NCP “Supporting identities”). connection with rights-based approaches
date itself beyond specific geographical and In this regional assessment, it was relatively to conservation and sustainable use of na-
cultural contexts (14). Indeed, the context- easy to fit most narratives into the 18 catego- ture and their implications for quality of
specific perspective on NCP often tends to ries of the generalizing perspective on NCP. life. The presence of multiple worldviews
resist the scientific goal of attaining a univer- In assessing pollinators, pollination, and and diverse ways of expressing them in the
sally applicable schema. food production (16), the dialogue with wording of the Convention on Biological
Although subdivision into internally con- local and indigenous knowledge-holders Diversity’s strategic plan for biodiversity
sistent systems of categories is common in highlighted some NCP that were defined and specific objectives, such as the Aichi

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many local knowledge systems, a universally as practices of care gifted to people, such Targets, further illustrates how important
applicable classification—such as the one as fostering pollinator nesting resources inclusive framings are to the broad political
proposed in the generalizing perspective on in forests, totemic relationships requiring legitimacy of these international objectives
NCP (table S1)—is not currently available and reciprocal obligations between people and and their implementation instruments. j
may be inappropriate because of cultural in-
commensurability and resistance to univer-
1. S. Díaz et al., Curr. Op. Environ. Sustain. 14, 1 (2015).
sal perspectives on human-nature relations. 2. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Washington, DC
The context-specific perspective may instead “The NCP approach aims at (Island Press, 2005).
3. E. S. Brondizio, F.-M. L. Tourneau. Science 352, 1272
present NCP as bundles that follow from dis- … products that are … more (2016).
tinct lived experiences such as fishing, farm- 4. IPBES Plenary 5 Decision IPBES-5/1: Implementation of
ing, or hunting or from places, organisms, or likely to be incorporated into the First Work Programme of the Platform, page 23; www.
entities of key spiritual significance, such as policy and practice.” 5. S. Polasky, K. Segerson. Ann. Rev. Resour. Econ. 1, 409
sacred trees, animals, or landscapes (11, 13). (2009).
Providing space for context-specific per- 6. R. B. Norgaard, Ecol. Econ. 69, 1219 (2010).
spectives recognizes that there are multiple pollinators, and traditional governance 7. K. M. A. Chan et al., Bioscience 62, 744 (2012).
8. S. Lele et al., Conserv. Soc. 11, 343 (2013).
ways of understanding and categorizing re- that depends on ongoing presence of bees 9. U. Pascual et al., BioScience 64, 1027 (2014).
lationships between people and nature and and butterflies in the landscape (table S2) 10. U. Pascual et al., Curr. Op. Environ. Sustain. 26, 7 (2017).
avoids leaving these perspectives out of the (13). These context-specific NCP do not fit 11. F. Berkes, Sacred Ecology (Routledge, ed. 3, 2012).
12. C. Comberti et al., Glob. Environ. Change 34, 247 (2015).
picture or forcing them into the 18 general- easily in the 18 generalizing NCP categories.
13. R. Hill et al., in Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production:
izing NCP categories. The NCP approach Nevertheless, these knowledge sources un- A Global Assessment, S. G. Potts et al., Eds. (IPBES, 2016).
thus facilitates respectful cooperation across derpinned innovative strategic responses 14. M. Tengö et al. Curr. Op. Environ. Sustain. 26–27, 17 (2017).
knowledge systems in the co-construction of highlighted in the main messages to pol- 15. M. Roué, Z. Molnár, Eds., Knowing Our Lands and
Resources: Indigenous and Local Knowledge of Biodiversity
knowledge for sustainability. icy-makers that were agreed on among all and Ecosystem Services in Europe and Central Asia.
the member countries of IPBES (16): to Knowledges of Nature 9 (UNESCO, 2017).
NURTURING A PARADIGM SHIFT strengthen traditional governance and ten- 16. IPBES, Summary for Policymakers of the Assessment
Report of the IPBES on Pollinators, Pollination and Food
The NCP concept extends beyond the ure systems that support pollinators, which Production, S. G. Potts et al., Eds. (Secretariat of IPBES,
highly influential yet often contested no- are critical in many places where these 2016).
tion of ecosystem services, incorporating systems are being eroded through rapid
a number of interdisciplinary insights and industrialization.
We acknowledge the following experts participating in IPBES
tools. Most of them were called for during These examples illustrate how the inter- assessments: C. Anderson, P. Balvanera, B. Baptiste, N. Bennas, F.
the past decade (9, 10, 12, 14) but only now weaving of epistemologically diverse lines Berkes, M. Carneiro da Cunha, C. Chenu, M.-C. Cornier-Salem, B.
are enshrined explicitly in an environmen- of evidence (14) about specific subjects can Czúcz, P. Elias, B. Erasmus, S. Fennessy, J. Fisher, C. Fürst, S. Jacobs,
O. Osano, D. Pacheco, M. Potts, S. Preston, A. Purvis, A. Rajwanshi,
tal assessment framework. result in richer solutions for people and na- J. Rice, M. Rosales-Benites, C. S. Seixas, M. Solan, J. Tassin, W.
The implementation of the NCP approach ture, even within the context of large-scale Townsend, G. von Maltitz, T. Yahara, C.-Y. Yao, and Y.-C. Youn. We
and its reporting categories (tables S1 and S2) assessments. But regardless of the outcomes thank C. Broshi, M. Colloff, H. T. Ngo, and D. Singer for useful input
during the development of this work; V. Falczuk for help with the
is still in its infancy and is expected to be fully of the assessments, the consideration of dif- bibliography; and Y. Estrada for preparing the figures. S.D. was
fledged only in the IPBES Global Assessment, ferent knowledge systems—and the fact that partially supported by the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones
but the NCP approach is already changing as- generalizing, context-specific, and mixed Científicas y Técnicas, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, and
Fondo para la Investigación Científica y Tecnológica. U.P. was sup-
sessment procedures and their outcomes. For perspectives are considered as equally use-
ported by the Basque Foundation for Science, IKERBASQUE.
example, the ongoing IPBES regional assess- ful—matters in terms of making IPBES pro-
ments include an unprecedented effort to tap cedures and outcomes more equitable. This SUPP LEMENTARY MATE RIA LS
indigenous and local knowledge, from the should help overcome existing power asym-
literature and also from dialogues with indig- metries between western science and in-
enous and local knowledge-holders, to which digenous and local knowledge, and among 10.1126/science.aap8826

272 19 JANUARY 2018 • VOL 359 ISSUE 6373 SCIENCE

Published by AAAS
Assessing nature's contributions to people
Sandra Díaz, Unai Pascual, Marie Stenseke, Berta Martín-López, Robert T. Watson, Zsolt Molnár, Rosemary Hill, Kai M. A.
Chan, Ivar A. Baste, Kate A. Brauman, Stephen Polasky, Andrew Church, Mark Lonsdale, Anne Larigauderie, Paul W.
Leadley, Alexander P. E. van Oudenhoven, Felice van der Plaat, Matthias Schröter, Sandra Lavorel, Yildiz
Aumeeruddy-Thomas, Elena Bukvareva, Kirsten Davies, Sebsebe Demissew, Gunay Erpul, Pierre Failler, Carlos A. Guerra,
Chad L. Hewitt, Hans Keune, Sarah Lindley and Yoshihisa Shirayama

Science 359 (6373), 270-272.

DOI: 10.1126/science.aap8826

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