Archive for the ‘Biodiversity’ Category

The UK national ecosystem assessment is out!

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment was finalized and is being published on-line.

Started mid 2009, the assessment led by Robert Watson and Steve Albon, it is the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity.

The key findings of the assessment were made available on June 2nd (pdf here) while specific technical chapters will be made available through June.

Until then the 87 pages of the synthesis report should keep you busy! Below are some of the main points raised by the assessment:

The authors mention the need to increase food production while at the same time decreasing its negative effects on ecosystem services. In fact, the idea is to harness ecosystem services to actually increase production. This “sustainable intensification” is what the French call “ecological intensification”.

Reversing declines in ecosystem services will require the adoption of more resilient ways of managing ecosystems, and a better balance between production and other ecosystem services – one of the major challenges is to increase food production, but with a smaller environmental footprint through sustainable intensification.

Not surprisingly, the assessment also raises the issue of ecosystem services being undervalued in decision making and the suggested solution is to take into account the monetary and non monetary values of ecosystems in every-day decision making.

Contemporary economic and participatory techniques allow us to take into account the monetary and non-monetary values of a wide range of ecosystem services.

The assessment use six contrasting scenarios to explore alternative futures for ecosystem services in the UK.

The six scenarios used in the UK national ecosystem assessment

Choose yours!

It is also worth noticing that the assessment’s conceptual framework seems to focus on the “goods” that depend (at least in part) on ecosystem services as the linkage between ecosystems and human well-being. A more in-depth look into the figure below shows that in fact, the authors have grouped under the label “goods” all use and non-use, material and non-material benefits from ecosystems that have value for people.

The conceptual framework of the UK national ecosystem assessment

The ecosystem valuation debate

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

The Lancaster Environment Centre recently organized an on-line debate on ecosystem valuation. You can check out a summary of the debate on this page. Participants plan to produce a policy guidance document for future UK policy concerning market based instruments for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services.

The same debate on ecosystem valuation will take place tomorrow in Paris (France), under the auspices of the IDDRI, a think-tank. In preparation to the symposium, Emma Broughton and Romain Pirard wrote a short piece on market-based instruments for biodiversity (pdf).

Their article proposes a typology of instruments which distinguishes:

  • Regulations changing relative prices
  • Coasean type agreements
  • Reverse auctions
  • Tradable permits
  • Specific markets for environmental products
  • Premium capture on existing markets
  • The authors discuss the pros and cons of each one of these instruments.

    Learn more in the paper and participate in the on-going debate!

    Overestimating biodiversity loss?

    Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

    Earlier this May, Fangliang He and Stephen Hubbell made headline news by publishing, in Nature, a study that demonstrates that usual estimates of species extinction rates are actually overestimates. Their argument is basically as follows:

    Estimates of biodiversity loss from habitat loss are generally based on a relationship between the number of species in an area and that area’s surface. This relationship is known as the species-area curve. It is based on surveys that count species inside a survey area. The bigger the area, the more species there are. Of course, it makes sense to say that the bigger the area lost, the more species are lost.

    What He and Hubbell explain is that in establishing the species – area curves, species are added to the count as they are encountered. The survey area necessary for a first encounter with a species is necessarily smaller than the area that encompasses 100% of that species (except in the trivial case of there being only one single individual of the species).

    This larger area, which harbours 100% of the species, is the one which should be used for calculating species extinction from habitat loss. As a result, the species – area relationship gives less species going extinct for a given area of habitat loss… Makes sense doesn’t it?

    The authors insist that their point does not mean that biodiversity is not being lost at an alarming rate. That also makes sense of course.

    Ecosystem services and offsets in the EU biodiversity strategy

    Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

    Earlier this month, the European Commission published the European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. It has received considerable comment in the press and on-line, in particular regarding the place taken by ecosystem services and the value of nature. BusinessGreen, EurActiv, the Ecosystem Marketplace and others have rejoiced in finding that the strategy explicitly mentions the incorporation of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making through valuation, monitoring and reporting. While this is true, it must be made clear that most of the strategy actually focuses on setting biodiversity targets and developing (incl. funding) the corresponding monitoring and reporting schemes. Valuation issues are only mentioned in the strategy’s introductory section.

    The document only makes a passing mention of offsets and PES schemes as mechanisms for involving the private sector in funding biodiversity conservation. As such, it is a bit of a stretch to say that the strategy endorses “species banking” (as did the Ecosystem Marketplace). In fact, it is strange that the key role of offsets in the Habitats directive (article 6.4) did not get mentioned in this context. The strategy does not mention the 2004 environmental liability directive which also includes offsets.

    Targets set by the strategy include (1) the full implementation of the Birds (1979) and Habitats (1992) directives (i.e. improving the conservation status of twice the number of habitat types as are currently and 50% more for species), (2) maintaining and enhancing ecosystem services through the development of “green infrastructure” and the restoration of >15% of currently degraded ecosystems (no definition provided), (3) developing a adequate policy response to invasive species and (4) “stepping-up” the EU’s contribution averting global biodiversity loss (whatever that means apart from forking out aid…).

    Interesting chapters in the document discuss interactions with existing policies and in particular the Common Agricultural Policy which will have to contribute to the first two targets : improving the conservation status of habitats and species and restoring degraded ecosystems. The forthcoming CAP will have considerable impact on biodiversity and Europe and a lot is certainly at play there. The document states that discussions are in progress for a framework directive aimed at preserving soil resources in the EU. That’s a lot of news to come…

    Conservation biology for all… for free!

    Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

    Navjot S. Sodhi of Singapore and Paul R. Ehrlich of California edited a text book on conservation biology : “Conservation Biology for All“. They published it in a free and open access format in an effort to make conservation knowledge available to as many people as possible.

    You can access the pdf version of the book (or specific chapters) through Mongabay’s website. Enjoy the read!

    Has Australian biobanking lost all credibility?

    Friday, February 18th, 2011

    Biobanking was launched in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) in 2009* in order to streamline the requirement for developers to avoid, reduce and offset their impacts on biodiversity.

    Biobanking is inspired by similar policy instruments in the USA and elsewhere whereby developers can purchase “credits” sold by “banks” who have created “biodiversity gains” in advance of future impacts. As such, banking schemes solve some of the difficulties of offsetting impacts : taking into account delays between impact losses and offset gains and the uncertainties of actually obtaining these gains.

    On the downside, conservationists often argue that such “banks” give the false impression that all impacts can be offset, thereby giving an incentive to downplay or ignore the requirement to first avoid and reduce impacts.

    A major development operation in the Hunter valley of NSW resorted to biobanking to offset its impacts but it was revealed that errors where made in sizing the required offset actions. This is a serious blow to the credibility of biobanking as an instrument for mitigating development impacts on biodiversity. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald tells us that:

    The 644.4 hectares of clearing requires 37,010 credits, while the 887.0 hectares of biobank site generates 9607 credits. This results in a shortfall of 27,403 credits. The results show that between 2614.5 to 4107 hectares of additional offset is required to satisfy the offset required by the biobanking assessment.

    It will be interesting to see how this particular mishap will play out on the development of biobanking in NSW but also in its spread to other Australian states.

    * The scheme was set up through the Threatened Species Conservation Amendment (Biodiversity Banking) Act of 2006.

    Biodiversity: the new carbon?

    Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

    The Guardian, a leading UK newspaper, recently published an interesting analysis of biodiversity as the new “carbon”. After discussing how biodiversity has emerged as a new issue for companies to incorporate in their business strategies, the article details the main motivations for this.

    The first motivation mentioned is reputational risk but the most interesting is the one concerning a company’s liability in case of impacts or damages on biodiversity. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (BP) is used as an example. This underlies two things:

  • That the “business case” for incorporating biodiversity in business decisions and strategies is strongly dependant on an appropriate institutional context where companies are liable for impacts on biodiversity. The requirement to avoid, reduce and offset impacts is one such context.
  • That anticipating possible impacts and the potential financial losses that could result from such impacts requires the development of impact assessment procedures and methods that can be parametrized in advance.
  • The USA have developed assessment methods to be applied in the context of Natural Resource Damage Assessment procedures (NRDA), such as Habitat Equivalency Analysis and Resource Equivalency Analysis. In Europe, the 2004 Environmental Liability Directive will certainly make governments and environmental authorities push for the development of such methods.

    Oil palm expansion in Indonesia: the case for trade-off analyses of ecosystem services

    Thursday, January 13th, 2011

    In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul present a modelling framework for analysing trade-offs between palm oil production, biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.

    Informing policy-makers about these trade-offs is essential in the face of rapidly expanding plantations and the newly established REDD mechanisms (with a possible wildlife premium as discussed here).

    Using a scenario-based approach, the authors assessed the consequences of alternative pathways of oil palm expansion on the area of primary and secondary forests, on forest biodiversity (modelled using species-area models), carbon stocks (in biomass and peat soils) and annual rice production capacity. They show that biodiversity and forest conservation are compatible with the expansion of oil palm production, through appropriate selection of planted areas.

    Our results suggest that the environmental and land-use tradeoffs associated with oil-palm expansion can be largely avoided through the implementation of a properly planned and spatially explicit development strategy

    This rosy conclusion is tempered by the acknowledgement that striking the balance between the goals of biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and palm oil production will require the expansion of oil palm plantations to be capped. Are we really willing to make this “sacrifice”?

    The paper by Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul was critiqued by Sean Sloan and Nigel Stork (also in PNAS) for ignoring several spatial processes such as the aggregation of plantations. Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul downplayed the critique and argued for the usefulness of their tool for broad-based analyses of the issues in Indonesia.

    Ecosystem services and the greening of the CAP

    Friday, December 31st, 2010

    The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will soon be reformed. The European Commission has already made several propositions, summarized here and explained here (pdf).

    In a general context of decreasing subsidies, the EU commission has outlined three contrasting scenarios for the post 2013 CAP. These scenarios variously mix direct payments, market-instruments and rural development schemes. Whichever scenario finally unfolds, direct payments will be (totally or in part) justified on the basis of environmental public goods (together with stronger eco-conditionality). This is the greening of the CAP!

    Christian Deverre and Christine de Sainte Marie analysed this greening in a very interesting article (which is unfortunately only available in French). Although they refer a lot to current agricultural policy in Switzerland, their insight is very relevant to the EU.

    C. Deverre and C. de Sainte Marie recognize that the greening of the CAP is only nascent and that the institutions that govern the farming sector are still built around 1960s modernization goals. They also anticipate two important consequences to further greening of the CAP:

  • The increasing need for a detailed assessment of the environmental public goods that farmers provide. The ecosystem service concept is well suited to framing these assessments and will no doubt be strengthened by the coming reform
  • The risk of further “off shoring” of environmental degradations caused by producing food for the European market in other countries (because greening production in Europe implies reducing production levels)
  • In Nagoya, Europe agreed to end, reduce or reform economic incentives that negatively impact biodiversity (including farming subsidies). The CAP reform is an important tool for facing up to this challenge. In this context, it appears clearly necessary to better characterize the effects of farming practices on ecosystem services, at different scales of analysis: from the parcel to the landscape, both in Europe and beyond.

    Towards no net loss, and beyond (in the UK)

    Friday, December 31st, 2010

    I had mentioned in a previous post how the UK was discussing policies for biodiversity offsets and habitat banking.

    Conclusions from the Natural Capital Initiative‘s third workshop, which took place in early December 2010, are not yet on-line but they are discussed by Daniel Kandy of the ecosystem market place on their website.

    He argues that the workshop gave little hope for a national policy framework or strong government regulations on offsetting. A framework for voluntary offsets by developers is a more likely outcome of the current discussions, in particular under the new coalition government:

    Given the coalition government’s commitment to reducing regulation and meting out more power to local governments, a biodiversity offset program will more than likely be voluntary in nature and be regulated at the local level. After years of a Labour government opting for top-down regulatory approaches, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has decided to move towards a less centralized form of government oversight.

    The government will state its position in the spring of 2011, in a white paper called the “Natural Environment Policy Paper”. Meanwhile, discussions continue. Stay tuned for the publication of the workshop’s conclusions by the Natural Capital Initiative themselves…