It is recognised globally by organisations such as the UN and IPBES that the human relationship with nature is broken and an underlying cause of the environmental crises. The UN Secretary-General has noted the “urgent need to transform our relationship with nature“, and the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity speaks of restoring our broken relationship with nature. Nature connectedness captures that relationship with nature; it can be measured and is known to relate to pro-nature and pro-environmental behaviours – while also benefiting wellbeing. Nature connection unites human and nature’s wellbeing. And people’s connection with nature is a key realm for interventions to transform sustainability. This global ambition may seem out of reach, but each of us can play a part.
The UN Environmental Programme report Making Peace with Nature suggests that the world can transform its relationship with nature and tackle the climate and biodiversity crises through bold policymaking. An important part of this is changing the mindsets and values that create the current relationship with nature. Yet, it’s not just about policymakers, one of the key messages from the report is that “Everyone has a role to play in … transforming humankind‘s relationship with nature” – rather than using human knowledge, ingenuity, technology and cooperation to transform nature. This needs to be supported by empowering people to express themselves and act responsibly towards the environment.
New visions of a close relationship with nature are needed from new sectors. And I’ve seen that those new visions often come from one or two individuals within an organisation. People who have a close relationship with nature can lead the way in how to integrate nature connection into everyday life. Indeed, such visions are listed as key areas for transformative change in the report: “Paradigms and visions of a good life: Move towards paradigms that emphasise relationships with people and nature over material consumption.”
A key message from the report is that improving our relationship with nature, understanding its value and putting that value at the heart of our decision-making means transforming social and economic systems. I’ve discussed systems change and material consumption in our paper on applying the pathways to nature connectedness at a societal scale. At its simplest, this involves fostering the relationships that build nature connection while moderating the damaging relationships at key leverage points.
Towards this goal of transformative change, work on the IPBES transformative change assessment into the underlying causes of biodiversity loss has begun. The assessment will identify factors in human society at both the individual and collective levels that may be leveraged to bring about transformative change for the conservation and restoration of biodiversity. This includes behavioural, social, cultural, economic, institutional, and technological dimensions.
The IPBES transformative change assessment will consider the human-nature relationship. International experts from every region of the world will contribute as authors to the assessment, which will be considered in 2024 by representatives of almost 140 countries that are part of IPBES. The assessment will set out options for policymakers based on the latest scientific evidence. I’m excited to have been invited to be a lead author on this assessment.
The assessment will present evidence for the need for transformative change and present visions of a sustainable world – for nature and people. In addition, the assessment will consider the specific challenges transformative change for nature and people presents, such as the range of differing worldviews and values related to biodiversity, nature and visions of a sustainable future.
The assessment will also consider how transformative change occurs, focusing on those changes that can be intentionally promoted, accelerated, and scaled to improve, maintain or restore healthy relationships with nature – to realise a sustainable world where biodiversity can thrive. This will need to consider how to overcome the challenges of achieving transformative change, why efforts to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss have mostly been unsuccessful and the obstacles that impede transformative change. Before assessing the options to realise a sustainable world for nature and people.
These global initiatives set the scene for forging a new relationship with nature close to home. Pioneers can help in their areas of activity and influence. While many environmental initiatives focus on reduction and restriction, nature connection offers a positive vision of a nature-rich world that helps people feel good and live meaningful lives. The principles of nature connectedness provide an accessible and evidence-based approach that can be creatively applied across the public realm to help bring people closer to nature.