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ecosystem services

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.

Influence of Coastal Economic Valuations in the Caribbean

Enabling Conditions and Lessons Learned

This paper assesses the policy influence of previous coastal ecosystem economic valuations in the Caribbean and identifies the key “enabling conditions” for valuations to influence policy, management, or investment decisions. These findings will inform WRI's and our partners’ efforts to...

“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:”

WRI Annual Report 2011-2012

2011/2012 was a transition period as WRI said goodbye to President Jonathan Lash and welcomed new President Andrew Steer. With ample wind in our sails from 18 years of Jonathan’s leadership, the Institute’s accomplishments—many captured in this report—reflect both the strength and versatility he...

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

The Amazon rainforest boasts incomparable biodiversity– home to one in 10 of all known species— and plays a vital role in regional water supply and global climate regulation. Yet, it is also a profitable working forest, benefitting both local businesses and international corporations.

Trying to reconcile the conservation and commercial roles of such biodiversity hotspots is no easy matter. But a group of multinational corporations— Anglo American, Danone, Grupo Maggi, PepsiCo, Natura, Vale, Votorantim, and Walmart— are attempting to do just that in Brazil.

The Coral Triangle, an area stretching from southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific, is one of the most biologically diverse marine regions on earth. The area holds 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs and 75 percent of all known coral species. The region’s coral reefs provide food and livelihoods to more than 130 million people living within the Coral Triangle, as well to millions more worldwide.

Despite its importance, the Coral Triangle is the most endangered coral region on earth, with 85 percent of its reefs threatened by local activities like overfishing and destructive fishing, coastal development, and pollution. WRI and partners recently released a new report documenting this situation, Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle. The report provides both a region-wide and country-level perspective on the status of and threats to coral reefs off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. It also calls attention to the vulnerability of coral reefs in the Coral Triangle and factors leading to degradation and loss. The report aims to set priorities for management of reefs in the region.

This slideshow highlights images from the Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle report. Scroll through the photos and maps to learn more about the value coral reefs have for countries in the Coral Triangle, the threats reefs face, and actions that can help protect these vital ecosystems.

African farmers currently face a crisis. Droughts and unpredictable weather, in combination with decreasing soil fertility and pests, have caused crop failure on many of the continent’s drylands.

But there are solutions—namely, low-cost farmer innovations. Chris Reij, a Sustainable Land Management Specialist with Free University Amsterdam and a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, is leading the charge in this area. Reij facilitates the “African Re-greening Initiatives,” a movement that supports collaboration among partners working at the local level to help African farmers adapt to climate change and develop productive, sustainable farming systems.

Reij has received much acclaim for helping develop innovative solutions to Africa’s forests and food crises. His work has been covered by The New Yorker, The Nation, and the New York Times, just to name a few. Today, July 12th, Reij will appear on PBS NewsHour.

I recently sat down with Reij to talk about one of the most promising trends in African agriculture: farmer-managed re-greening.

Coral reefs are beautiful, diverse, productive ecosystems. Many people love to marvel at these rainforests of the sea, but how much does the average person actually know about them? For example, how many people know whether a coral is a rock, a plant, or an animal?

This lack of understanding prompted WRI and partners to release a major report last year on threats facing the world’s coral reefs. The 120-page Reefs at Risk Revisited report contains a wealth of information on the world’s reefs, including a lengthy answer to the question, “What is a coral reef?” There was just one problem: Most people don’t read 120-page reports, so we needed to get the story of coral reefs out to a wider audience.

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