The Flourishing of Life on Earth? A Theological Investigation of the Ecosystem Approach under the Convention on Biological Diversity

  • Rachel Bathurst

Student thesis: Phd


The intensification of human economic development over the last fifty years is well understood to be the cause of much of the world’s biodiversity loss. Biodiversity, or the variety of life on Earth, underpins the functioning of the biosphere and is essential for the maintenance of all life. Global actions have been taken to address the issue through the ecosystem approach, the operative framework of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The ecosystem approach, when implemented, aims to halt the loss of biodiversity whilst enabling humanity to develop. However, action taken through the ecosystem approach seems to be ineffective and biodiversity continues to decline globally. Despite the reports of failure, this study investigates whether the ecosystem approach has the potential to be a framework for the flourishing of life on Earth. A unique combination of theological critique with discourse analysis offers a new approach to theology, and is used to explore the relations between institutions, the socioeconomic context, human agency and the outcome for the natural environment, within the implementation of the ecosystem approach. Discourse analysis is the study of language in context, and forms the first part of the analysis, with the aid of linguistic association software, NVivo 11. The priorities of the institutions implementing the ecosystem approach across the globe, with relevance to human wellbeing, the economy and biodiversity, are explored. These are related to its development and implementation in the globalised capitalist socioeconomic context and the potential outcome for the natural environment. The findings suggest that, although the ecosystem approach promotes actions to benefit biodiversity and the maintenance of relations within an ecosystem, whilst including humans within the ecosystem, this interpretation has possibly not been implemented. Instead, the United Nations is leading governments to implement the ecosystem approach using a strong bias towards capitalist growth for the sake of human wellbeing whilst marginalising biodiversity, with potentially devastating consequences for the natural environment. The second part of the study investigates the findings of the discourse analysis using Wolfhart Pannenberg’s eschatology and pneumatology, two doctrines which the sub-discipline of ecotheology indicate are important in a theological exploration of the environmental crisis. The theological critique highlights issues of morality in the way the current implementation of the ecosystem approach is being carried out. It suggests that the capitalist values of utility are at odds with the Spirit’s work of love in bringing God’s creation to its fulfilment. Where capitalist values uphold the bias from the dominant institutions towards prioritising capitalist growth through the implementation of the ecosystem approach, the theological investigation suggests that by founding the socioeconomic context on love, the ecosystem approach could offer a way towards the flourishing of life on Earth. With insights from socioeconomic theology, an economy constructed as gift and perhaps realised as church, is presented as the socioeconomic context within which a gift-based ecosystem approach might be able to be implemented to be a framework for the flourishing of life on Earth.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Scott (Supervisor)


  • Pannenberg
  • pneumatology
  • eschatology
  • biodiversity
  • Ecosystem Approach
  • sustainable development
  • ecotheology

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