Prof Jeanne Nel, Research Associate with the Sustainability Research Unit recently co-authored a paper on an international study titled “Key knowledge gaps to achieve global sustainability goals” which was published in Nature Sustainability on the 28th of October 2019. This important study systematically synthesized knowledge gaps from recent assessments of four regions of the globe and three key themes by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. 

The authors assessed their relevance to global sustainability goals and traced their evolution relative to those identified in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. They found that global sustainability goals cannot be achieved without improved knowledge on feedbacks between social and ecological systems, effectiveness of governance systems and the influence of institutions on the social distribution of ecosystem services. These top research priorities have persisted for the 14 years since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Their analysis reveals limited understanding of the role of indigenous and local knowledge in sustaining nature’s benefits to people. Their findings also contribute to a policy-relevant and solution-oriented agenda for global, long-term social-ecological research.

Prof Nel states that “the assessment highlights a subtle shift in the way people are framed in relation to nature. We have left behind the framing of ‘nature for people’ (which focused quite substantially on economic benefits from nature) to a framing of ‘people in nature’ that tries to view nature’s value using a diversity of perspectives - non-monetary and monetary. This requires governance approaches that place scientists, politicians and local stakeholders on an equal footing to weave together their different ways of knowing and collectively develop social change strategies. It requires environmental scientists to step away from highly aggregated modelling and scenario approaches that often mask unfair appropriation of nature’s benefits. We need scenario and modelling approaches that seek to understand how very local and tangible social changes made by individuals and institutions can multiply up to big collective social changes and what impact this can have on the fair distribution of nature’s benefits”.

Feel free to access the paper using the following link https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-019-0412-1