Today the World Resources Institute released Ecosystem Services Review for Impact Assessment: Introduction and Guide to Scoping, the first of two Working Papers presenting a new methodology to help incorporate ecosystem services into impact assessment.
On January 1, 2012, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) will begin requiring client projects to “maintain the benefits from ecosystem services.” For example, a project draining wetlands would have to examine its impact not only in terms of biodiversity loss, but also in terms of the loss of pollination services for surrounding farmers and loss of fish breeding and nursery grounds for fishermen. Explicitly recognizing the importance of such ecosystem services to people’s well-being early in the project planning process has been demonstrated to facilitate the achievement of financial, social and environmental sustainability.
Ecosystem services link social and environmental issues
Ecosystem services are the many benefits that ecosystems provide to people. These consist of all the natural products and processes that contribute to human well-being, as well as the personal and social enjoyment people get from nature.
Scientists generally divide ecosystem services into four categories:
- Provisioning services are the goods or products obtained from ecosystems such as food, timber, medicines, fiber, and freshwater.
- Regulating services are the benefits obtained from an ecosystem’s control of natural processes, such as climate, disease, erosion, water flows, and pollination, as well as protection from natural hazards.
- Cultural services are the nonmaterial benefits obtained from ecosystems such as recreation, spiritual values, and aesthetic enjoyment.
- Supporting services are the natural processes such as nutrient cycling and primary production that maintain the other services. By defining the environment in terms of people’s well-being, ecosystem services emphasize that changes in the environment affect human well-being and that changes in human well-being affect the environment.
Because of its worldwide reach, the IFC’s new Performance Standards will increase the demand for guidance on how to assess project impact and dependence on ecosystem services. In a survey conducted by WRI, 85% of impact assessment practitioners said they felt that current guidance documents were not enough to help them address ecosystem services in an integrated way throughout the impact assessment process.
Since current impact assessment practices mostly consider and assess impact on social conditions and the environment separately, WRI’s Ecosystem Services Review for Impact Assessment (ESR for IA) proposes a conceptual framework linking ecosystem services, human well-being and the project for which the impact assessment is carried out. It also provides specific steps to implement this framework seamlessly within the impact assessment process, including guidance on engaging ecosystem service stakeholders. More specifically, the ESR for IA helps practitioners address ecosystem services in a systematic and efficient way:
- At the scoping stage: Practitioners will systematically and comprehensively identify the ecosystem services to be addressed in further stages of the impact assessment process;
- At the impact analysis stage: Practitioners will assess (i) the negative impact a project might have on ecosystem services in terms of changes in the well-being of their beneficiaries and (ii) the dependence of the project performance on ecosystem services; and
- At the mitigation stage: Practitioners will identify mitigation options to enhance or at least maintain both people’s well-being and project performance.
Help us improve the ESR for IA
The ESR for IA will be released as two separate Working Papers. Ecosystem Services Review for Impact Assessment: Introduction and Guide to Scoping, launched today, will be followed by *Ecosystem Services Review for Impact Assessment: Guide to Impact Analysis and Mitigation in early 2012. These two working papers will be road-tested on impact assessment processes between January and September 2012 before being finalized as a single publication. We invite environmental and social practitioners to send us feedback and suggested improvements to the methodology by sending us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), completing our online survey, contributing to the discussions on our Business and Ecosystems group on LinkedIn, and/or taking part in the road-test in 2012.