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ecosystem services

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The Fourth National Climate Assessment report, from the U.S. government’s Global Change Research Program, was just released. The report, prepared with the support and approval of 13 federal agencies, and with input from hundreds of government and non-governmental experts, provides an comprehensive look at how climate change will impact the United States. Read a statement by Dan Lashof, U.S. Director, World Resources Institute.

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This guide was developed for technical advisors to government officials, business people, investors, and others who need to draw on ecosystem assessments to inform decision-making. It assesses several types of ecosystem service modeling tool, discusses issues involved in modeling ecosystem services, and provides guidance on how to choose the right model to address a specific policy question. The guide outlined five steps to help decide which model to use in a particular decision-making context. It especially targets advisors and decision-makers in developing countries who are not experts in ecosystem service modeling and who have limited information and technical resources but must make decisions about natural resource management in relation to ecosystem services.

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Tenure-secure indigenous and other community forestlands are often linked to low deforestation rates, significant forest cover, and the sustainable production of timber and other forest products. New WRI research shows that securing indigenous forestland is also a low-cost, high-benefit investment and therefore makes good economic sense.

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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.

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Tropical coastal ecosystems—including coral reefs, mangroves, beaches, and seagrasses—provide a range of valuable goods and services to people and economies across the Caribbean. These ecosystems contribute to tourism, fisheries, shoreline protection, and more.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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