UNESCO's commitment to biodiversity
Culture and values
The way people value and perceive biodiversity influences behaviour at the level of the individual, institutions and whole societies. More work is needed to understand the diversity of values that people hold for biodiversity, especially among non-Western societies and marginalized groups. The different ways of perceiving and valuing biodiversity depend on culture, gender, education, occupation, context (e.g. urban/rural) and/or a multitude of other influences. There is growing recognition of the need to understand this issue.
Biodiversity may be valued for the extrinsic ‘ecosystem services’ it provides to humanity (e.g. the provision of pollinators for food production, mangroves for preventing coastal erosion or plants as potential sources of new pharmaceuticals). It can also be regarded as having intrinsic value; for example, highly biodiverse areas such as rainforests or coral reefs, or charismatic animals such as tigers or whales, are often perceived to have value regardless of their contributions to people. Biodiversity and nature also have profound cultural and spiritual dimensions. However, these may conflict with systems that place an economic value on biodiversity.
- Understanding diverse values is essential to comprehending how humans interact with biodiversity.
- Understanding different values is also essential for gaining the consensus and cooperation needed to conserve biodiversity, which can only be achieved when multiple actors agree on common goals.
UNESCO's role in understanding the diverse values of biodiversity
UNESCO’s interdisciplinary mandate which includes the natural and social sciences and culture makes it uniquely able to explore the diverse values of nature. Biodiversity is central to many cultures and culture itself plays a crucial role in how biodiversity is perceived. UNESCO is the only UN agency with a mandate in the field of culture.
UNESCO’s Culture Sector, through its culture conventions and programmes, plays a unique role in promoting human creativity and safeguarding culture and heritage worldwide. UNESCO’s mandate for the social sciences enables exploration of the ethical considerations of nature’s intrinsic value, while UNESCO’s work on gender provides a space to examine how biodiversity is experienced and utilized differently by women and men. Finally, the work of UNESCO in culture and communication and information demonstrates that language is key to how we understand and perceive the world, and shows how the concepts of ‘biodiversity’ and ‘nature’ are expressed in many different ways in different languages.
INDIGENOUS AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Indigenous peoples and local communities deserve special attention when considering the diverse values of nature. Many indigenous and local communities are reliant on biodiversity and have a particular relationship with their landscapes and seascapes. They do not necessarily see a distinction between humans and nature, and often accord deeply spiritual importance to animals and plants. Within this cultural context, efforts to put an economic value on biodiversity or even to actively manage biodiversity for conservation can be deemed highly offensive. Moreover, much of Western conservation philosophy perceives a clear separation between humans and nature, with human impacts on biodiversity automatically seen as detrimental. For indigenous peoples, however, human interaction with nature is crucial for both the natural and social worlds. Conservation actions that aim to limit human interactions with biodiversity may therefore risk severing indigenous connections to nature. Such diverse values need to be explored and mutually understood if conservation activities are to be acceptable and equitable for all.
UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme has worked on a project to document women’s knowledge of medicinal plants on islands in the Indian Ocean. These islands were populated from the end of the seventeenth century by peoples originating from Europe, Madagascar, Africa, India, China, and even Polynesia and Australia. The project shows how gender, a close connection to nature, cultural diversity and isolation on a series of small islands has led to an intimate understanding of the value of plants including both medicinal and spiritual aspects. Full publication (pdf)
UNESCO NORMATIVE INSTRUMENTS
Several UNESCO normative instruments in the field of culture relate to biodiversity. For example, cultural landscapes inscribed on the World Heritage List under the World Heritage Convention safeguard important biodiversity values by upholding interlinkages between cultural and biological diversity. The majority of the World Heritage cultural landscapes have agricultural or agropastoral components, with traditional forms of land use that help maintain biodiversity including agro-biodiversity.
The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage contributes to the understanding of traditional knowledge, values and practices accumulated and renewed across generations as part of intangible cultural heritage. This includes the ways in which such in-tangible cultural heritage guided human societies in their interactions with the surrounding natural environment for millennia. Today, the contribution of intangible cultural heritage to environmental sustainability is recognized in many fields such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable natural re-source management, climate change, and natural disaster preparedness and response.
- World Heritage Convention
- World Heritage cultural landscapes
- Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
UNESCO-SCBD JOINT PROGRAMME ON THE LINKS BETWEEN BIOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY
In recognition of the importance of the links between biological and cultural diversity, the Secretariat of CBD and UNESCO established a Joint Programme on the Links between Biological and Cultural Diversity in 2010. The main objective of the Programme is to identify and enhance syner-gies between interlinked provisions of conventions and programmes dealing with biological and cultural diversity at relevant scales. LINKS and MAB programmes and the WHC contribute to the Joint Programme.