Decision-makers oftentimes treat the services that ecosystems provide—like water filtration or flood protection—as a free benefit. A new issue brief can help them account for nature's full worth.
Blog Posts: ecosystem services
Governments, businesses, development agencies, and NGOs are increasingly turning to economic valuation as a way to protect coral reefs and mangroves. This process makes the economic case for protection and sustainable use of natural resources by showing the monetary, employment, and infrastructure benefits ecosystems provide—metrics that are easily understood by decision-makers.
But not all economic valuations are created equal. WRI's new guidebook shows how NGOs and other stakeholders can conduct economic valuations in ways that lead to real change on the ground.
How do people, governments, and corporations “value” ecosystems? And how can you put a price on the vast array of social, economic, and environmental benefits that ecosystems provide?
These are just two of the questions experts sought to address at “The Future of Revaluing Ecosystems,” an event WRI recently convened in Bellagio, Italy, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, Forum for the Future, and the Economist Intelligence Unit. The meeting brought together 32 participants from public, private, non-profit, and research sectors to consider how society could include in public and private decision-making a more complete valuing of the benefits ecosystems provide to people. The discussions shed light on how we can evaluate ecosystems’ true worth to communities and businesses —and how to use these valuations to foster better environmental stewardship.
The Wayuu people in northern Colombia depend on shrubland for grazing their livestock. These herds serve as the Wayuus’ main source of income and food, and this is partly why they depend so heavily on the existence and condition of shrubland ecosystems. But livestock are also used to pay dowries or make amends, playing a major role in facilitating social interactions between families and clans. If an oil and gas project adversely affects the shrubland ecosystem, it could impact not only the Wayuus’ income and protein intake, but the social bonds that hold these communities together.
Most planners fail to account for the multiple—and sometimes underappreciated—benefits that people derive from their environment, a concept known as ecosystem services. While new Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) standards require impact practitioners to account for ecosystem services when evaluating a proposed project’s potential impacts, many lack a methodological approach that would enable them to properly integrate social and environmental issues.
Until now, that is. WRI’s new guide, Weaving Ecosystem Services in Impact Assessment: A Step-by-Step Method, aims to highlight the interdependence of development projects, people, and the environment. The guide helps impact practitioners and project developers evaluate the social implications of impacts on ecosystems brought by highways, dams, oil and gas wells, and other such projects. By systematically incorporating a consideration of ecosystem services into environmental and social impact assessments, planners can mitigate negative impacts on ecosystem services while also achieving project objectives.
Brazil’s economy has been booming. During the past decade, it grew from the ninth to the sixth-largest in the world. While this growth has brought many socioeconomic benefits, it’s come with a downside: significant environmental impacts. Brazil has the highest rate of deforestation worldwide, while pollution threatens the country’s drinking water supply. Despite a decrease in national greenhouse gas emissions of late, agriculture emissions and energy demand are still rising.
Ensuring that development projects benefit both people and the planet is becoming more and more of a priority.
Environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA) have been in use for decades to consider the effects of projects such as dams, highways, and oil and gas development. Over the years, ESIAs have evolved to cover both environmental and social impacts, including health and human rights.
However, the assessments often study social or environmental factors separately from one another, missing the many ways in which they interact.
In 2012, important financial institutions--the International Finance Corporation and the Equator Principles Financial Institutions--took a welcome step towards promoting a more holistic approach to impact assessment, requiring their clients to address ecosystem services as part of their due diligence.
Incorporating the concept of ecosystem services into ESIA can ensure that affected stakeholders, project developers, financial, and governmental institutions understand the full scope of a proposed project’s impacts on people and the environment. But as I recently learned at the annual conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) two weeks ago, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the concept of “ecosystem services” really means and how it can be applied to conducting impact assessments. It’s a good time to clear up confusion on this critically important yet complex issue.
Water is a scarce resource in India, especially in the state of Maharashtra, where most rainfall is limited to the monsoon season from June through September. The Government of India has long promoted a Participatory Watershed Development (PWD) approach to deal with this scarcity.
This post was co-written with James Mulligan, Executive Director at Green Community Ventures.
Natural ecosystems provide essential services for our communities. Forests and wetlands, for example, filter the water we drink, protect neighborhoods from floods and droughts, and shade aquatic habitat for fish populations.
While nature provides this “green infrastructure,” water utilities and other decision-makers often attempt to replicate these services with concrete-and-steel “gray infrastructure”—usually at a much greater cost. Particularly where the equivalent natural ecosystems are degraded, we build filtration plants to clean water, reservoirs to regulate water flow, and mechanical chillers to protect fish from increasing stream temperatures. And even though healthy ecosystems can reduce the operational costs of these structures, investing in restoring or enhancing various types of green infrastructure is rarely pursued—either as a substitute for or complement to gray infrastructure.
Despite America’s history of reliance on gray infrastructure, now is a critical time to tip the scales in favor of a green infrastructure approach to water-resource management. Investing in the conservation and improved management of natural ecosystems to secure and protect water systems can keep costs down and create jobs. Green infrastructure can also provide a suite of co-benefits for the air we breathe, the places we play, the wildlife we share our landscapes with, and the climate we live in.
Governments, corporations, and development agencies are increasingly interested in putting a dollar value on ecosystems in order to balance conservation and development needs, a concept known as “economic valuation.” For example, St. Maarten’s government recently established the country’s first marine national park after a local organization found that the area’s coastal ecosystems contribute $58 million per year through tourism and fisheries. Belize enacted a host of new fishing regulations based on a WRI valuation, which found that coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contributes $150 million-$196 million per year to the country’s economy. And in Bonaire, park managers used economic valuation to justify the Bonaire Marine Park’s establishment of user fees—making it one of the few self-financed marine parks in the Caribbean.
These stories show that economic valuation can indeed lead to better coastal policy, conserving these ecosystems and securing their important economic contributions. However, according to new WRI research, these cases tend to be the exception in the Caribbean.
Economic Valuation and Coastal Policy in the Caribbean
In the Caribbean, there is keen interest in economic valuation of coastal ecosystems to inform policy and improve natural resource management. But while the literature on the value of coral reefs and mangroves in the Caribbean continues to grow, these ecosystems continue to decline.
WRI and the Marine Ecosystem Services Partnership (MESP) took a closer look at the impact of previous economic valuation studies in the Caribbean. Out of more than 200 studies of the economic value of the Caribbean’s marine ecosystem goods and services, we were only able to identify 13 that actually influenced marine and coastal management policies, such as those in Bonaire, St. Maarten, and Belize.
“To tell the story of the corporation is to tell the story of a grand bargain gone awry,” says Pavan Sukhdev in his new book, Corporation 2020: Transforming Business for Tomorrow’s World. It’s a bold statement, but he backs up his claim persuasively. While many companies are reaching record profits, they’ve oftentimes come at the expense of ecological degradation, rising greenhouse gas emissions, unemployment, spikes in food and fuel costs, and social inequalities.
But Sukhdev has developed what he believes is a framework for shifting the private sector towards a greener, more equitable economy. WRI recently hosted Sukhdev at our Washington, D.C. office to discuss his new book and his vision for the future. The founder of GIST Advisory and former head of UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative joined a panel discussion with WRI’s Managing Director, Manish Bapna, and Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environment Facility.
“Pavan has written a remarkable new book,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, who opened Wednesday’s event. “It not just a book, but really a campaign to change corporations in four viable ways.”
The 4 “Planks” for Corporate Sustainability
Sukhdev’s framework for shifting the private sector towards greater social and environmental sustainability includes what he calls the “four planks of change:”
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