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ecosystem services

With more than 75 percent of the world’s coral species and twice the number of reef fish found anywhere else in the world, the Coral Triangle is the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. Stretching from central Southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific, 130 million people in the Coral Triangle region depend on marine resources for food and livelihoods. In this way, the region’s coral reefs and associated fisheries are vital to people and national economies, but they’re also severely threatened by overexploitation.

Recognizing the critical role that coral reefs play in people’s lives and the regional economy, the governments of the six countries that make up the Coral Triangle—Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste—came together in 2009 to form the largest marine governance initiative in the world, the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF). Their common goal is to manage their valuable marine resources so that they can continue to provide benefits to people in the future.

Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle

In support of this ongoing initiative, the World Resources Institute and the USAID-funded Coral Triangle Support Partnership have just released a new report, Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle. The report provides both a region-wide and country-level perspective on the risks to reef ecosystems.

Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle

This report is a map-based analysis of threats to coral reefs around the world, with particular focus on the countries of the Coral Triangle—Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. It examines present pressures on coral reefs, including...

This is a Q&A with Manish Bapna, WRI's interim president. The story originally appeared in the Brazilian publication, "Revista Epoca," and was written by Luciana Vicaria.

LV: In your opinion, what are the biggest environmental problems?

MB: Today’s environmental challenges are largely interconnected. Two-thirds of the ecosystem services (the benefits that people derive from nature that underpin economies and livelihoods) are degraded . This degradation is expected to accelerate in the first half of the 21st century, exacerbated by the effects of climate change. By 2025, up to two-thirds of the world’s people are projected to live in water‐stressed conditions. Food security is another pressing concern. To feed the world’s nine billion people (which we’re expected to pass by mid-century), the U.N. Food and Agriculture (FAO) organization projects that food availability needs to increase by at least 70 percent.

Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.

People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).

Last week, experts from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and our colleagues from Brazilian businesses and organizations gathered at the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro. While the scenery was beautiful, none of us were there to smell the flowers. We were launching a new initiative designed to help Brazilian and international companies incorporate ecosystem services into their business strategies.

WRI, the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), and the Center for Sustainability Studies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (GVces) launched the Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership (PESE) with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). PESE partners Brazilian companies with sustainability institutions to develop business strategies that improve both corporate performance and stewardship of Brazil’s ecosystems, most notably in the Amazon.

Water supply and availability could be the most pressing problem restricting China’s economic growth in the next 10-15 years, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank. Not only are water resources limited (only about 30 percent of total water resources are available for use), but many surface and groundwater sources are suffering from severe pollution.[^1] The Chinese government is now looking to invest in new ideas to improve water quality and supply, and WRI is using its water quality trading expertise to explore the potential of market-based methods to improve water quality and increase the supply of clean water from Chao Lake, the fifth-largest lake in China.

For the most part, Ecosystem Markets still linger in the early stages of development. There is much more theoretical work to be done to set up environmental credit markets, including carbon offsets and payments for watershed services. But more pilot projects can also help these markets evolve and show how they might work in the real world.

Development pressures in the U.S. South often mean that forests are worth more cut down than left standing. In the U.S. South alone, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that suburban encroachment will convert approximately 31 million acres (approximately 14 percent of 2010 southern forest area) of southern forests to development between 1992 and 2040.

Forested watersheds of the southern United States provide numerous services to the region. At no cost, they purify water, control flooding and erosion, and provide places for people to relax and have fun. Yet despite their value, many watersheds are under threat from development and poor land management.

“Payments for Watershed Services” (PWS) programs are one strategy to keep watersheds healthy. Through a PWS program, landowners receive financial incentives to conserve, sustainably manage, and/or restore watersheds to yield the kinds of benefits described above.

Over the past decade, more companies have recognized the value that healthy ecosystems provide to business. Proactive companies have started managing their connection to ecosystems in order to avoid being blindsided by unexpected risks arising from the degradation of ecosystems.

Today, many managers want to know how ecosystem service considerations can be integrated into business performance systems. This issue is addressed in the World Resources Institute’s new report, Nature in Performance, a guide that helps business managers incorporate ecosystem service considerations into environmental management systems, sustainability reporting, and other performance systems.


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