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Environmental Stewardship

Ecosystems and biodiversity are the enduring foundation of much that we as humans enjoy– the clean air we breathe, the healthy fruit and vegetables on our plates, or the lingering call of the curlew that haunts our nights in the tropics.

Ro Hill

Environmental stewardship: pathways for people, nature and cultures

Ecosystems and biodiversity are the enduring foundation of much that we as humans enjoy– the clean air we breathe, the healthy fruit and vegetables on our plates, or the lingering call of the curlew that haunts our nights in the tropics.

Yet in Australia and beyond, we see rampant deforestation, ocean degradation and species extinction. Disasters are happening in real time which are having a direct impact both on the environment and on the people in the affected areas.

Humanity urgently needs to find policies and pathways that allow both people and ecosystems to thrive (1).  In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly established the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) to do just that. And IPBES is beginning to show results, pointing to environmental stewardship pathways that underpin a sustainable future for all.

IPBES first focused on one of the most obvious ways that people depend on ecosystems: through the pollination services of bees, butterflies and other animals that put food on our plates.  Animal pollination directly affects 75% of globally important crops, yet pollinators face many substantial risks from climate change, pesticides and invasive alien species (2).

Three strategic pathways can safeguard pollinators into the future (3):

  1. Improving current conditions for pollinators e.g. through rewarding farmers for pollinator-friendly practices and leaving uncultivated patches of vegetation near fields

  2. Transforming agricultural landscapes e.g. through strengthening the diversified farming systems of Indigenous peoples and local communities and investing in ecological infrastructure

  3. Transforming society’s relationship with nature e.g. through connecting with the diversity of peoples’ values.

IPBES’ Land Degradation and Restoration assessment identified clear synergies between ecosystems and the Sustainable Development Goals (4).  This and the four IPBES regional assessments highlighted that an urgent step-change in effort is needed.

Ecosystem stewardship in the 21st Century needs the engineers of the ‘spaceship earth’ of the 20th Century, who are showing how hydrogen-powered energy systems can be safe, clean and carbon-free (5).

But we are not stewarding a machine—our planet is alive. We need to also understand, respect, and support Indigenous understandings that the land and seas carry the law that tells us how to live sustainably; that the environment stewards us (6,7). Stepping up our pathways to protect the invaluable contributions of environmental stewardship for both people and nature is the defining challenge of our next decades, and also the greatest opportunity for human creativity.

Karen people in the Hin Lad Nai community, northern Thailand explaining how their rotational farming systems have stewarded their forests for centuries. Photo: Jitirapa Bumroongchai

Karen people in the Hin Lad Nai community, northern Thailand explaining how their rotational farming systems have stewarded their forests for centuries. Photo: Jitirapa Bumroongchai

Lowland tropical forests in north-east Queensland, stewarded by Eastern Kuku-Yalanji People for millennia, and now part of an Indigenous Protected Area and World Heritage Site. Photo: R. Hill

Lowland tropical forests in north-east Queensland, stewarded by Eastern Kuku-Yalanji People for millennia, and now part of an Indigenous Protected Area and World Heritage Site. Photo: R. Hill

References

  1. Enqvist, J. P. et al. Stewardship as a boundary object for sustainability research: Linking care, knowledge and agency. Landsc. Urban Plan. 179, 17-37, doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.07.005 (2018).

  2. Potts, S. G. et al. Safeguarding pollinators and their values to human well-being. Nature 540, 220-229. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v540/n7632/abs/nature20588.html, doi:10.1038/nature20588 (2016).

  3. IPBES. Summary for policymakers of the assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on pollinators, pollination and food production. S.G. Potts, V. L. Imperatriz-Fonseca, H.T. Ngo, J.C. Biesmeijer, T.D. Breeze, L.V. Dicks, L.A. Garibaldi, R. Hill, J. Settele, A.J. Vanbergen, M.A. Aizen, S.A. Cunningham, C. Eardley, B.M. Freitas, N. Gallai, P.G. Kevan, A. Kovács-Hostyánszki, P.K. Kwapong, J. Li, X. Li, D.G. Martins, G. Nates-Parra, J.S. Pettis, and B.F. Viana (eds.).  (Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 2016).

  4. Scholes, R. et al.     (IPBES, Bonn, Germany. Online: https://www.ipbes.net/system/tdf/spm_3bi_ldr_digital.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=28335, 2018).

  5. Lamb, K. E., Dolan, M. D. & Kennedy, D. F. Ammonia for hydrogen storage; A review of catalytic ammonia decomposition and hydrogen separation and purification. Int. J. Hydrog. Energy 44, 3580-3593, doi:10.1016/j.ijhydene.2018.12.024 (2019).

  6. Berkes, F. Sacred ecology, Third Edition.  (Routledge, 2012).

  7. Mistry, J. & Berardi, A. Bridging indigenous and scientific knowledge. Science 352, 1274-1275, doi:10.1126/science.aaf1160 (2016).


R. Hill April 2019