Multiple conceptualizations of nature are key to inclusivity and legitimacy in global environmental governance

Luca Coscieme, Trinity College Dublin
Håkon da Silva Hyldmo, Norwegian Environment Agency
Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Helsingin Yliopisto
Ignacio Palomo, BC3 Basque Centre for Climate Change
Tuyeni H. Mwampamba, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Odirilwe Selomane, Stockholms universitet
Nadia Sitas, Stellenbosch University
Pedro Jaureguiberry, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba
Yasuo Takahashi, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Michelle Lim, Faculty of the Professions
Maria P. Barral, Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria Buenos Aires
Juliana S. Farinaci, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais
Julio Diaz-José, Tecnológico Nacional de México
Sonali Ghosh, Wildlife Institute of India
Joyce Ojino, The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics
Amani Alassaf, The University of Jordan
Bernard N. Baatuuwie, University for Development Studies Ghana
Lenke Balint, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Zeenatul Basher, Michigan State University
Fanny Boeraeve, Université de Liège


Despite increasing scientific understanding of the global environmental crisis, we struggle to adopt the policies science suggests would be effective. One of the reasons for that is the lack of inclusive engagement and dialogue among a wide range of different actors. Furthermore, there is a lack of consideration of differences between languages, worldviews and cultures. In this paper, we propose that engagement across the science-policy interface can be strengthened by being mindful of the breadth and depth of the diverse human-nature relations found around the globe. By examining diverse conceptualizations of “nature” in more than 60 languages, we identify three clusters: inclusive conceptualizations where humans are viewed as an integral component of nature; non-inclusive conceptualizations where humans are separate from nature; and deifying conceptualizations where nature is understood and experienced within a spiritual dimension. Considering and respecting this rich repertoire of ways of describing, thinking about and relating to nature can help us communicate in ways that resonate across cultures and worldviews. This repertoire also provides a resource we can draw on when defining policies and sustainability scenarios for the future, offering opportunities for finding solutions to global environmental challenges.