Dr Ro Hill on the promise of Environmental Stewardship

By October 7th, 2019

With nature declining at an alarming rate, Dr Ro Hill spoke about the promise of environmental stewardship at her Bob Hawke Centre lecture in Adelaide.
FIreflies in a forest by night

Fireflies in a forest (Image: Sam Weng via Flickr)

“The magic of seeing fireflies flickering long into the night is immense … Across cultures, humans inherently value nature.” So began Dr Ro Hill’s lecture as part of the Wakefield Futures Group sustainability series with The Bob Hawke Centre in Adelaide.

It’s a quote from Joyce Mpanja, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. It was Mpanja’s response to the IPBES Global Assessment, from earlier this year: the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report. The report made headlines, when it estimated that 1 million species (25% of global species) face extinction.

We know now that nature is declining at an accelerating rate, and that the causes are all underpinned by societal values and behaviours. “Any story about nature is also a story about people and culture,” says Ro.

Against this rather grim background, Ro said that Joyce Mpanja’s words resonated with her for two reasons. Firstly, she has had the privilege of seeing firefly mating trees in Australia and Papua New Guinea, where “literally thousands of fireflies were flashing simultaneously; it was magically beautiful … a very moving experience”. But it also struck her that a global leader from a developing country was highlighting the importance of the non-material benefits of nature. This hinted at the global significance of the ethic and practice of environmental stewardship.

Dr Ro Hill portrait

Dr Ro Hill is a Principal Research Scientists with our Land and Water group, and an Adjunct Professor at James Cook University in Queensland (Image: supplied).

What is environmental stewardship? 

In her lecture, Ro introduced ‘environmental stewardship’ as a pathway to create the future that we want, a sustainable future. She describes environmental stewardship as fundamentally about actions “based on care, agency and knowledge, that values our deep two-way connections with nature.” Importantly, it also respects Indigenous voices and traditional knowledge, and their perspective that Country stewards people, as well as people stewarding Country.

“We know that the future is something we are creating – a wide range of possible futures, some quite dire. But ecosystem stewardship can provide a pathway to a sustainable future,” said Ro. “Actions at many levels, from global agreement-making to local tree-planting, provide the building blocks of a new deal for nature and people, to lower the impacts of human population and consumption, and deliver a good quality of life for nature and people.”

You can now listen to the audio recording of Dr Ro Hill’s Wakefield Futures Group lecture here.

This lecture was presented by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre and Wakefield Futures Group, as part of the Sustainable Futures series. The talks are held at the University of South Australia, on the lands of the Kaurna people.