Archive for the ‘Ecosystem services’ Category

Biodiversity offsets: the most promising nature-based opportunity for UK businesses?!

Monday, July 9th, 2012

DEFRA (the UK government department responsible for policy and regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs) recently published a report on opportunities for UK business that value and/or protect nature’s services. What does it say?

Well, the authors identified 12 promising opportunities for UK business to help protect and value nature. First among them is the development of biodiversity offsets and habitat banking. The report suggest they move from their current voluntary status to a mandatory regime.

Rank 1=: BIODIVERSITY OFFSETS, INCLUDING THROUGH CONSERVATION BANKING – an opportunity to stimulate creation of new companies and new business models for existing companies to provide biodiversity offsets in the UK, by moving from the current voluntary approach to a (soft regulation) mandatory regime.

The report mentions “soft regulation”, and describes (section 2.1, 1 of the final report) this as:

regulation or unambiguous policy interpretation by government that clarifies that biodiversity offsets are necessary in defined circumstances, and that establishes a framework for implementation to a particular standard, including through conservation banks.

The report also mentions the need to :

support for a brokering system which can provide national, regional and local choice against desired spatial delivery, and can provide transparency and ease of purchase of credits and management of contracts with those providing offset sites, all of which would reduce risk

To learn more about the business side of the report’s conclusions, dive in and read Attachment 1.

Grasslands: are they all equivalent?

Although the report’s overall outlook is positive, it doesn’t mean creating a market for biodiversity offsets will be straightforward. There are still many technical and institutional difficulties to overcome

  • how will the avoidance and reduction steps of the mitigation hierarchy be enforced?
  • how are “credits” constructed?
  • how will their prices be set?
  • how are liabilities defined?
  • who is in charge of controls and sanctions?
  • (…)
  • These questions are not new, but they deserve some detailed thinking, and transparent debates.

    Do we need pandas?

    Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

    Published in 2010, Ken Thompson‘s book on the uncomfortable truth about biodiversity offers a refreshing perspective for conservation.

    After a very good explanation of what is meant by the term biodiversity, Ken Thompson goes on to discuss several key concepts:

  • ecosystem services, and their “links” with biodiversity
  • wilderness versus rare species
  • cost-efficiency of conservation investments (or spending)
  • the direct experience of biodiversity by people
  • One of the fist messages that the book upholds is that biodiversity is the outcome of ecosystem-level properties (structure and processes, including those determined by geography : soils, climate, etc.) and not the other way round. In this sense, conserving biodiversity because it contributes to ecosystem service provision is not the right way to frame the issue. Rather, the loss of biodiversity is an indicator of changing ecosystem-level properties, which lead to specific losses and gains in service provision. Conservation should target ecosystems, not particular species.

    Another important message is that conservation actions must take cost-efficiency into account. In this respect, once again, the focus should be on ecosystem properties and not on targeting this or that species. Another related point is the abundance of large areas of wilderness for which conservation actions could have large impacts for little investment. This is especially true when compared with conservation carried out in densely populated areas when land is scarce and thus expensive.

    In spite of the opportunity of doing things on a grand scale in the remaining wilderness areas of the world, Ken Thompson also argues that to ensure that people care about biodiversity, they must be exposed to it. As such, biodiversity should be present, and accessible, in people’s everyday surroundings: gardens, urban parks, countryside areas, etc. Reserves are not the solution to that issue.

    There are lots of interesting anecdotes and facts in the book but the messages above appear to be the most refreshing from a nature conservation perspective…

    Refining the definition of PES schemes

    Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

    The original definition of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes by Wunder et al. (2005) was recently modified to reflect variations in the implementation of real-life PES schemes.

    Sven Wunder presented the modified definition at the CIVILand conference on payments for ecosystem services and their institutional dimensions organized in November 2011 by the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (pdf of the presentation here).

    The definition has been reformulated as follows (in italics):

    1. voluntary transaction – to a variable extent on the buyer side; to full extent on provider side

    2. a well-defined environmental service (ES) or a land-use proxy, or some bundle thereof

    3. is being “bought” by a (min. one) ES buyer – which can be a public entity

    4. from a (min. one) ES provider or a community

    5. if and only if the ES provider continuously secures ES provision – i.e. conditionality has to be present to some extent in design and function

    The institutional needs for PES schemes remain the same: cooperation & trust between providers, buyers, and regulators, land & resource rights, degradation rights, and low transaction costs.

    TEEB on TED

    Friday, December 30th, 2011

    On TED, Pavan Sukhdev – who lead the TEEB initiative – explains why we need to “value nature” in order to manage it sustainably.

    He ends his talk on the suggestion to focus efforts on “green” and “blue” carbon as part of climate change mitigation. Green and blue carbon is the carbon stored in terrestrial and marine ecosystems respectively.

    Pavan Sukhdev tells us that he strongly supports the REDD+ mechanisms, whereby emitting countries fund projects in forested countries that avoid deforestation and/or forest degradation. There is a lot of potential there for synergies between carbon sequestration goals and the continued provision of other ecosystem services (and biodiversity).

    Concerning blue carbon, it is interesting to note how he explains that we, collectively, have made the ethical choice to lose coral reefs through unmitigated climate change. It was probably an implicit choice, but it is quite revealing that Pavan Sukhdev and TEEB recognize that there are critical thresholds of biodiversity and ecosystem service loss. Those thresholds can be ecological (to avoid extinction or complete loss) or social but they certainly define the boundaries of our future life support system. Good debates to be had there…

    New books on the shelves

    Friday, September 23rd, 2011

    Several new books on the topic of market-based instruments for nature conservation were recently published (or will soon be). Expect so see reviews here soon.

    The first book is by Royal Gardner, a law specialist, who has worked on wetland mitigation in the USA. Entitled Lawyers, Swamps, and Money: U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics the book provides an in-depth look into the inner workings of the wetland mitigation “industry” and especially its governance. You can take a look on Amazon.

    The second book is by Ece Ozdemioglu of the British consultancy EFTEC. It will provide guidance on ecological equivalency methods that can be applied to biodiversity offsets and payment for ecosystem service schemes. Here is what her personal page on the EFTEC website says:

    Her next book (with Josh Lipton and David Chapman, forthcoming in 2011 by Springer) will be on the use of resource equivalency (including economic valuation) methods for assessing environmental damage and liability and selecting the appropriate compensation measures. This will help implement European Directives of Habitats, Wild Birds and Environmental Liability as well as input to new policy instruments like biodiversity offsetting, payments for ecosystem services and habitat banking.

    According to Open Trolley, the expected publication date is September 29th, with the title “Equivalency Methods for Environmental Liability in the European Union: Assessing Damage and Compensation Under the Environmental Liability Directive”. Most of the contents probably reflect EFTEC’s work as part of the EU funded REMEDE project which provides lots of interesting insights.

    If you haven’t read it yet, you can still have a look at Carroll, Fox and Bayon’s book on conservation and biodiversity banking published by EarthScan.

    A first step towards ecosystem service-based certification in forestry

    Friday, July 8th, 2011

    On July 1st, the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies timber products worldwide, acknowledged that forest certification should recognise “social issues and the role of ecosystem services” (motion 1.1.)

    The FSC does not detail how it might go about including these issues in the certification process but it certainly raises the prospects for expanding the proper assessment and monitoring of ecosystem services in production forests worldwide.

    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

    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…

    The ideals of ecosystem service research

    Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

    Ralf Seppelt and his co-authors from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig (Germany) recently published an interesting inquiry into how ecosystem service research is actually conducted (pdf available here). They draw conclusions on how it should be done.

    They focused on ecosystem service studies at the regional scale, looking at 153 publications. Most studies focused on single ecosystem services (usually provisioning), using proxy-data (such as land-use or land-cover maps). Interestingly, the authors conclude that less than one third of the studies they reviewed provided a sound basis for their conclusions…

    From their review, R. Seppelt and his co-authors suggest four key components for high quality ecosystem service research:

  • Establishing the biophysical basis for ecosystem service delivery
  • Analysing trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services, in a context of environmental change and ecosystem management decisions
  • Analysing off-site effects of ecosystem management decisions on ecosystem services
  • Involving stakeholders in identifying ecosystem services, ground-truthing conclusions and management options
  • They list key criteria on which to assess whether a particular ecosystem service study actually follows their suggested guidelines. Table 1 below is taken from their paper.

    Table 1 from Seppelt et al. (2011) in Journal of Applied Ecology

    The authors mention biophysical realism as a necessary criteria for ecosystem services studies to provide a sound basis for decision making. It could be argued that the same could apply to “socio-political” or “socio-economic” realism. Stakeholder involvement does not necessarily guarantee such realism, especially when stakeholders have very heterogeneous needs and preferences and/or where there are important power asymmetries between stakeholders.

    The science of IPBES in Science…

    Friday, February 18th, 2011

    Science magazine published today a policy article about the challenges facing the recently launched Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

    The authors, all of which are key players in the international earth systems science partnership, present the three key challenges for IPBES to reach its goals:

  • Strengthening the science
  • Strengthening assessments
  • Strengthening policy relevance
  • In discussing these challenges, they insist on the need to broaden their partnerships and in particular to seek more input from the policy community, from less developed nations and the social sciences.

    Greater involvement by social sciences is justified by the need to better incorporate “values” of biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to strengthen policy relevance. The authors argue that this valuation step was missing in the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment but put forward by the TEEB initiative in 2010. Let us hope that the IPBES will keep a critical outlook on this agenda.