Newsletter #2 June 2008

Valuing ecosystem services for environmental management



eeThe concept of ecosystem services has received significant attention since the appearance of the Millennium Ecosystem assessment. Ecosystem services are distinct from other ecosystem functions and values in that there is an explicit recognition of the human demand for these natural assets. Ecosystem services can be subdivided into five categories: provisioning (e.g. the production of food and water); regulating (e.g. the control of climate and disease); supporting (e.g. nutrient cycles and crop pollination); cultural (e.g. spiritual and recreational benefits); and preserving, (e.g. reducing uncertainty through the maintenance of diversity). The concept of ecosystem services provides a means to “translate” the role of the biophysical environment in sustaining humanity, and provides insight into the relations between human society and the biophysical environment.

Real value of ecosystem services Despite the important contribution that ecosystem services make to human welfare, many ecosystems are under threat and continue to be degraded by human activities. This can in part be explained by the fact that ecosystem services generally have the characteristics of “public goods”, in that they are freely accessible to everyone and their consumption by one person does not does not diminish the quantity of the service that is available to others. As a result, private incentives to maintain ecosystem services do not reflect their full value to society and they are often under supplied or face pressure from more marketable resource uses. There is therefore a need to identify, quantify, and value ecosystem services to support decision making regarding the conservation of such services. The provision of information on ecosystem services can contribute to making better decisions and policies for environmental management.

Researchers at IVM are involved in a variety of projects that aim to provide information on the value of ecosystem services. This information can be in terms of monetary values or in terms of the contribution to reducing poverty. Examples of such studies are provided below 

Example of monetary valuation Economists Onno Kuik, Marije Schaafsma, and Luke Brander, together with GIS expert Alfred Wagtendonk and colleagues at Fondazione ENI Enrico Mattei have recently completed a project for the European Environment Agency that examines the prospects for scaling up information on the value of ecosystem services to the European level. There now exists a large and rapidly expanding body of knowledge on ecosystem service values. Most of this value information, however, is for specific case study sites. The aim of this project is to assess the potential and practicality of using existing ecosystem service value information to estimate the value of services from ecosystems across Europe through so called “value transfer”. The outcome of the project has been to propose the use of meta-analyses of the existing value information on ecosystem services to estimate value functions for different ecosystem types. Such value functions relate the characteristics of an ecosystem (in terms of its size, type, and scarcity) and its socio-economic characteristics (in terms of income of the neighbouring population and size of population) to its value.

To estimate the value of an ecosystem that is of policy interest, the characteristics of that ecosystem can be “plugged into” the value function. Given information on the characteristics of all ecosystems in Europe, this can also be done at a European scale. In order to produce such information we use a GIS to generate and combine data on land use, population, and income. We have illustrated this proposed method with a case study of wetland values in Europe. Using a meta-analytic value function for a wide range of wetland services (including flood control, water supply, recreational uses, aesthetics, and biodiversity) and data on over 50,000 European wetlands, we estimated the average annual value of services from wetlands to be almost 1,200 Euros per hectare. Using this approach to value marginal changes in the stock of wetlands and the services derived from them can help inform decisions regarding conservation efforts in Europe. 

For more information contact Luke Brander (luke.brander@ivm.vu.nl)

Example of poverty assessment Especially in developing countries, the importance of ecosystem services goes beyond its monetary value. A study, led by IVM economist Pieter van Beukering, looked at the role marine protected areas (MPA) can play in alleviating poverty. The study was conducted at four separate locations in the Pacific: Fiji, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and the Philippines. An MPA is an area of ocean or coastal water that is recognised by both government and society as having specific conservation value. Measures are put in place to preserve the quality of marine life that can include restricted access for fishing, diving and other potentially harmful activities.

Working in partnership with local non-governmental organisations and universities, the researchers interviewed over 1,100 local people about the changes they had seen in their quality of life since the creation of the nearby marine protected areas. Across the four sites, there was clear evidence that poverty had been reduced by several factors:

  • Improved fish catches. Fish are now “spilling over” from the no-fishing zones of the four marine protected areas, leading to increased catches and higher incomes for fishers at three of the sites.

  • New jobs, mostly in tourism. The marine protected areas’ greatest boost to household incomes came from new jobs, especially in eco-tourism. On Apo Island in the Philippines, tourism has surpassed fishing as the largest source of income.

  • Stronger local governance. In all four study sites, community governance mechanisms were established for the management of the marine protected area. Involving the community in management and decision-making of the marine protected area gave the communities a more united voice and frequently reduced conflict within the communities and with neighbouring communities.

  • Stronger local governance. In all four study sites, community governance mechanisms were established for the management of the marine protected area. Involving the community in management and decision-making of the marine protected area gave the communities a more united voice and frequently reduced conflict within the communities and with neighbouring communities.

  • Benefits to women. In all four sites, the marine protected area helped empower women economically and in some cases socially. In the Arnavons, Soloman Islands, the development of alternative livelihoods to fishing, such as seaweed farming and basket weaving, provided new income opportunities for women. As a result, they gained a stronger voice in community meetings.

 
For more information about the study, visit:

www.nature.org

or:

www.prem-online.org