BORIS Theses

BORIS Theses
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A cross-scale investigation on the linkages between nature, nature’s contributions to people, and human wellbeing in Nepal

Adhikari, Biraj (2023). A cross-scale investigation on the linkages between nature, nature’s contributions to people, and human wellbeing in Nepal. (Thesis). Universität Bern, Bern

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In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an effort to concurrently achieve economic, social, and environmental sustainability by 2030. However, nations struggle to balance their urgent economic and social priorities with the conservation of nature and biodiversity. The lack of knowledge and understanding of the linkages between nature, nature’s contributions to people (NCPs), and human wellbeing at varying scales and contexts, and a lack of recognition of the role of nature and biodiversity in achieving long-term economic and social goals is one of many barriers to achieving the SDGs. To address this knowledge gap, I used a mixed-method approach at varying scales, using a combination of literature reviews, online surveys with experts, field surveys, stakeholder interviews, and statistical analyses of online databases on SDG indicators to systematically examine the role of NCPs towards achieving the SDGs in Nepal, a low-income and highly biodiverse mountainous nation. In my thesis, I identify direct and indirect opportunities for Nepal, and other nations to achieve terrestrial biodiversity conservation goals in the face of other competing socio-economic goals. For my first paper, I conducted a national-scale review of publications related to nature, biodiversity, and NCPs in Nepal. Results revealed that NCPs contributed to the achievement of 12 out of 17 SDGs. These findings validated the importance of NCPs for sustainable development in Nepal, in line with previous global studies. However, my results also found that most NCPs in Nepal were declining due to key drivers of change, including land-use change, climate change, and pollution. These direct drivers were in turn linked to conventional development interventions such as agricultural intensification as well as the expansion of roads and energy infrastructure, which were implemented in isolation and without taking biodiversity and the environment into consideration. The declining state of NCPs throughout Nepal is likely to undermine the country's long-term ambitions of sustainable development, considering their critical role in achieving the SDGs. My second paper sought to uncover the interactions (co-benefits and trade-offs) between biodiversity conservation (SDG 15) and other socio-economic development goals in Nepal through expert surveys, key informant interviews, and statistical analyses. Results showed that SDG 15 synergized with most SDGs, and particularly with SDGs 4 (education), 5 (gender equality), 6 (clean water and sanitation), and 8 (sustainable economic growth). However, there were also trade-offs between SDG 15 and SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 7 (affordable and clean energy), and 9 (industry and infrastructure). Informants identified several short- and long-term opportunities to address existing trade-offs between SDG 15 and other SDGs, including improving the governance of natural resources, particularly at local levels, addressing coordination gaps between different government stakeholders, developing contextualized policies on conservation, and implementing capacity building and education programs for local government representatives and the broader public. The objective of my third paper was to understand the interlinkages between nature, NCPs, and human-wellbeing at the sub-national scale, and to identify factors likely to influence these interactions. For this, I conducted a household survey along an elevational gradient in Eastern Nepal, gathering perspectives of local communities on how nature contributed towards their household wellbeing. In line with my first paper, the household survey confirmed the vital role of NCPs in ensuring a good quality of life, as participants perceived them as essential for various aspects of their daily lives, including food security, income, access to clean drinking water, energy for cooking, cultural identity, and relaxation. Participants from the mountain region, predominantly occupied by communities who were more directly dependent on nature, had the most favorable perceptions towards NCPs. Similarly, participants with higher levels of education, and those who perceived that they had better access to basic necessities were more likely to have positive perceptions towards NCPs. The household survey further showed that people’s perceptions and priorities towards NCPs differ substantially based on geographic location and socioeconomic background. My research has identified several opportunities for Nepal to enhance its conservation sector. 1) Addressing socio-economic trade-offs arising from conservation interventions might be key for the conservation sector of Nepal. Community forests and protected areas can divert their focus from investing into infrastructure development to developing pro-poor activities, such as employment generation and minimization of human-wildlife conflicts. Additionally, a pluralist approach to conservation planning that includes multiple value systems and knowledge can also help reduce trade-offs and conflicts arising from conservation interventions. 2) Since the advancement of multiple socio-economic goals can create trade-offs for biodiversity conservation, addressing these trade-offs require policy-makers from the conservation sector to collaborate with socio-economic development stakeholders, including various government ministries and departments at the federal and local level. Currently, opportunities lie in the proper implementation of environmental considerations in development projects through collaborative efforts amongst representatives of the newly established federal and local governments in Nepal. 3) It is essential to monitor progress towards the SDGs at sub-national levels while also taking into account the potential trade-offs that may arise from achieving specific targets. 4) To address biodiversity loss in non-protected areas throughout the country without creating access- and use-restrictions to communities, landscape-based conservation approaches and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) might present an opportunity. 5) An indirect pathway towards achieving conservation goals involves harnessing co-benefits between SDG 15 and other SDGs, such as integrating community-based ecotourism and education, which can enhance both environmental stewardship at the local level and help communities generate alternative income, as well as supporting biodiversity conservation efforts. 6) to make more informed decisions regarding biodiversity conservation, potential research opportunities lie in exploring NCPs in non-protected areas as well as in montane, sub-alpine, and alpine regions of Nepal, investigating non-material and relational values of nature, and adopting a critical geography approach to understand the implications and trade-offs of conservation decisions at the local level. Nepal, like many other countries, urgently needs to meet its economic and social goals, but a “by-all-means-necessary” approach could further jeopardize their socioeconomic status in the long-term by negatively affecting nature, the foundation upon which all SDGs depend. There is no perfect solution to these complex issues. However, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the role of nature and NCPs in promoting human wellbeing, as well as navigating the intricate interconnections between socio-economic priorities and conservation objectives at varying scales, can empower the government to make informed decisions on adopting development pathways that generate the maximum benefits for all stakeholders as well as for nature.

Item Type: Thesis
Dissertation Type: Cumulative
Date of Defense: 27 July 2023
Subjects: 500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)
Institute / Center: 08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)
Depositing User: Hammer Igor
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2023 14:48
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2023 14:48

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