Posts Tagged ‘Biodiversity’

Sharing nature’s bounty or managing the services provided by natural capital?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

In an article in the Guardian, a UK newspaper, George Monbiot, takes a hit on ecosystem services and natural capital.

He finds the current shift in vocabulary very worrying:

  • Nature has become natural capital
  • Natural processes have become ecosystem services, as they exist only to serve us.
  • Ecosystems (hills, forests, river catchments, etc.) are now green infrastructure
  • Biodiversity and habitats are now asset classes within an ecosystem market
  • He basically argues that all the hype around these new terms and concepts carries with it the privatization of nature. He uses private ownership of land, exemplified by the enclosure of the commons, as an illustration of that privatization process.

    Enclosure Act for Shifnal, 1793

    Land ownership (…) has involved the gradual accumulation of exclusive rights, which were seized from commoners. Payments for ecosystem services extend this encroachment by appointing the landlord as the owner and instigator of the wildlife, the water flow, the carbon cycle, the natural processes that were previously deemed to belong to everyone and no one.

    His message is clearly stated, but it is not new. In fact, this has been a constant worry of all those involved in the growing incorporation of biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services into decisions affecting our environment. This includes both public bodies such as local governments involved in land planning, and private entities such as NGOs looking for extra funding or businesses trying to manage their dependency or impacts on natural resources and ecological processes.

    His critique focuses on the idea that only by giving a monetary value to the ecosystem services provided by natural capital can we internalize them into our decisions. This is one way forward, but because it assumes that natural capital is thus interchangeable with human or financial capital, it carries the risks outlined by the article. Another approach is to identify which bits of our natural capital are not exchangeable (fungible), and adopt a no net loss approach to their management.

    Managing our natural capital: No Net Loss vs. Monetization

    No net loss of natural capital has been one of the guiding principles of environmental legislation and is generally translated into regulations – such as the European Habitats Directive – than impose a sequence of steps aimed at avoiding, reducing, and offsetting impacts on natural capital.

    Concerning offsets, George Monbiot clearly does not trust environmental authorities to give priority to avoiding over reduction and offsetting of impacts.

    The government warns that these offsets should be used only to compensate for “genuinely unavoidable damage” and “must not become a licence to destroy”. But once the principle is established and the market is functioning, for how long do you reckon that line will hold? Nature, under this system, will become as fungible as everything else.

    He is probably right. Would impacts have been avoided if offsets had not been possible through this pilot scheme? Probably. Is that a good enough reason to give in? Maybe.

    George Monbiot takes the creation of the UK’s Natural Capital Commitee as a symbol of the worrying trend towards a gradual monetization, and thus privatization, of nature and natural processes. Let’s hope we can get a bit of no net loss principles in there…

    The IBPES is established – Is it all good news?

    Monday, April 23rd, 2012

    The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was officially created on April 23rd. It’s secretariat will be based in Bonn (Germany).

    In brief, the ambition of the IPBES is to replicate the IPCC’s role in the climate debate in informing the sustainable use / conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. That’s appears to be an even more challenging goal that limiting green-house gas concentrations…

    Establishing the IPBES is certainly a victory for biodiversity and conservation worldwide, with greater scientific input into decisions that affect biodiversity across the globe. Nevertheless, this victory will certainly come at a cost.

    Two issues are worth considering:

  • Who will pay for this? If its workings are comparable to those of the IPCC, then funding IPBES will require a lot of money. Unfortunately, the funds for running the IPBES will most likely have to be taken from existing public funding for conservation. Deciding which programs will loose out (on-the ground actions? research?) will be tricky.
  • How legitimate will it be on the ground? The IPBES is clearly set in a vision of natural resource management that subscribes to the technogarden scenario of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. One can easily imagine that – as is the case for the IPCC – not everyone will want to have scientists, mostly from the developed world, monitor their activities and publish recommendations and guidelines on how to minimize biodiversity impacts or enhance ecosystem services.
  • Concerning this second issue, Morgan Robertson puts it nicely in his blog:

    one person’s ecosystem services are another person’s conditions of biological existence, and to have them continuously monitored, valued and recorded is… unsettling. At the very least — regardless of the merits of the conservation actions — it unavoidably creates an unequal power relationship (or, more likely, reinforces an already-existing one) between the monitor and the monitored.

    This is worth remembering. As was often remarked by those involved in launching the IPBES, the devil lies in the governance structure. As always!

    No net loss : where are fisheries and farming?

    Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

    At an IUCN event on Red Lists for Europe, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (Member of the European Parliament) talks about nature conservation in Europe.

    He paints quite a bleak picture of the current situation, where solutions are few, and state coffers are empty… So should we follow the money? Maybe there are opportunities to fund nature conservation through the polluter – pays principle, applied to biodiversity (and wilderness?), instead of the citizen – pays principle of many established policies.

    This opportunity is hotly debated at the moment, with many countries working their way towards “no net loss” targets for biodiversity through reinforced obligations for developers to “compensate” their impacts.

    Of course, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy doesn’t fail to mention that those that need to act fastest are the fisheries and farming sectors. They have been given “rights to thrash” and they have used them to a large extent. Shouldn’t they play a part in the application of the polluter-pays principle?

    Where are fisheries and farming in the no-net-loss debate?

    Biodiversity: you can only manage what you can measure!

    Sunday, June 19th, 2011

    Francis Vorhies, the Green Mind columnist in Forbes Magazine, recently published a short piece on biodiversity.

    His article emphasizes the various definitions of biodiversity, highlighting two alternatives: (1) a focus on wild species and their habitat requirements (as in the USA) or (2) “the integrity and diversity of natural environments and processes” (more akin to the CBD‘s definition).

    He states that for companies, the second approach is probably more useful. He doesn’t however explain why… and I would tend to think the opposite.

    The integrity and diversity of environments and processes is much harder to pin-down, and hence measure, monitor and manage, than the presence, absence or abundance of a species in a given area of land.

    The issue of biodiversity, in terms of impacts, responsibilities and opportunities, can only be dealt with if it can be properly managed. Some say you can only manage what you can measure…

    The knowledge base for identifying and measuring species and their habitats is stronger than that of complex interacting ecological processes, let alone “integrity” which requires setting a reference (which one?).

    What do you think?

    Biodiversity offsets and more in the UK’s white paper on the value of nature

    Thursday, June 9th, 2011

    The UK government’s white paper on the “value of nature” has been published (pdf here).

    Biodiversity offsets are mentioned as a good idea to be tested on a voluntary basis by local governments and developers. For the time being, there is thus no expansion of the mitigation hierarchy (of avoiding, reducing and offsetting impacts) beyond that required under the EU “birds” and “habitats” directives.

    We will establish a new, voluntary approach to biodiversity offsets and test our approach in pilot areas

    As well as testing offsets, the white paper also mentions the designation of nature improvement areas to be restored. This must be set against the goals mentioned in the recent European biodiversity strategy (also discussed here). The government also plans to set up an (ecological network.

    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!

    13 important isssues for developing practical conservation goals

    Monday, March 1st, 2010

    In a review published in 2008 in Ecology Letters, David Lindenmayer and a long list of co-authors discuss some of the most important concepts used in describing, understanding and managing biodiversity and ecological processes at the landscape scale. These include classifying landscapes into habitats, describing and assessing their internal structure and condition, describing their disposition in space and time as well as their connections and hedge-effects.

    Their review of these concepts is relatively broad but difficult to follow. It does not offer a very satisfying conclusion, except a worthwhile attempt to synthesize how these concepts relate to each other in a box-and-arrow diagram.

    The more interesting part of their review is their suggestion of 13 important issues to be considered in developing practical goals for conservation. These are the following:

  • Develop long-term shared visions and quantifiable objectives
  • Manage the entire mosaic, not just the pieces
  • Consider both the amount and configuration of habitat and particular land cover types
  • Identify disproportionately important species, processes and landscape elements
  • Integrate aquatic and terrestrial environments
  • Use landscape classification and conceptual models appropriate to objectives
  • Maintain the capability of landscapes to recover from disturbances
  • Manage for change
  • Time lags between events and consequences are inevitable
  • Manage in a experimental framework
  • Manage both species and ecosystems
  • Manage at multiple scales
  • Allow for contingency
  • Each one of these issues is discussed in the paper and although they might seem trivial to some, lack of time or expertise often means they are not appropriately accounted for in the design of conservation policies. This situation makes the paper a useful reminder! The authors conclude by listing some key research topics including the challenge of making the enormous mass of ecological knowledge relevant to on-the-ground management of ecosystems and biodiversity. That’s a hard one!

    Is there a place for a binding “duty of care” for biodiversity conservation?

    Thursday, February 18th, 2010

    A recent article by G. Earl, A. Curtis and C. Allan in the journal Environmental Management discusses the feasibility of imposing a duty of care for biodiversity to land owners and land managers. They explore the specific case of Australia but many of their ideas resonate with the broader issue of developing an appropriate policy mix for conserving biodiversity outside protected areas. The authors argue that as an established legal principle, “duty of care” (rather than the looser moral obligation of “stewardship”) can relatively easily be applied to biodiversity. A government report published in 2001 also addressed this issue and the authors make an important contribution in proposing guidelines for actually implementing a duty of care policy.

    Picture of a Eucalyptus woodland by ButterflyHunter (http://www.flickr.com/photos/7719574@N06/1375259579/)

    One of the key points discussed in the article is that of setting clear goals for biodiversity: “desired outcomes” that must be set at the catchment or landscape level (or whichever administrative or management unit is appropriate). Establishing such goals would be a requirement for a duty of care policy but would of course be very useful to a whole suite of existing policies (including those based on the evaluation of impacts on biodiversity).

    The authors also argue that this desired outcome should probably be based on the maintenance of the ecosystem or landscape level processes that underpin biodiversity (as well as ecosystem services that are important to humans). However, they recognise that many of these are little known or hard to measure and that appropriate indicators might often rest in identifiable biodiversity components (species presence or abundance, habitat acreage…).

    The framework conforms with much of the current dialogue concerning biodiversity conservation across landscapes, in seeking to articulate quantifiable and ‘‘biophysically meaningful’’ desired outcomes for biodiversity that incorporate measures of size, configuration and connectivity of habitats, as well as vegetation condition measures that collectively act as surrogates for ecological processes.

    This dialogue is very much at the centre of any policy aimed at stopping biodiversity loss or improving its status, be it stewardship, duty of care, offset schemes or top-down command-and-control rules and regulations.

    Biodiversity indicators: 10 common mistakes

    Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

    In a paper published in 2003 in the Journal of Environmental Management, Lee Failing and Robin Gregory list 10 common mistakes made in designing biodiversity indicators for forest management. The paper is a worthy read for anyone dealing with issues of monitoring or decisions concerning land-use or ecosystem management.

    According to the authors, indicators can have three uses: tracking performance (for results-based management), discriminating alternative hypotheses (for scientific exploration), discriminating alternative policies or management options.

    In their paper, they focus on the latter. They list ten common mistakes made in developing and using biodiversity indicators aimed at providing guidance to policy makers or forest managers who must decide on landscape or forest management policies and plans. Deciding whether or not to allow a specific project to go forward requires a different suite of indicators than assessing whether or not the project was a success.

    They provide a nice example to illustrate their point:

    When we go to the doctors and ask “what is my risk of heart disease”, we do not expect the answer to be framed as a percentage of the target daily donut intake”. (…) Eating fewer donuts may be part of a sensible management strategy but it does not answer the question “am I healthy?” A report of two dozen indicators may be an important part of the the analysis process, but it is also not an acceptable answer to the question (…). Doctors it seems understand the need to take a complex thing, break it down into a relatively small number of indicators, and provide a summary judgement about the status of our health or the probability of recovery associated with alternative treatments.

    The 10 mistakes:

  • 1. Failing to define end-points – Is the aim to preserve ecosystem services or scenic value, to prevent the loss of a particular set of species or the intrinsic values and rights of all species.
  • 2. Mixing means and ends – Appropriate performance indicators should focus on the desired goals, not on whether “actions” were taken. Guideline are no substitute to goals.
  • 3. Ignoring the management context – Outside a specific context, “biodiversity” has no meaning – The context must thus be specified.
  • 4. Making lists instead of indicators
  • 5. Avoiding importance weights for individual indicators – Unfortunately, stating that “everything is important” doesn’t work in practice.
  • 6. Avoiding summary indicators or indices because they are considered overly simple
  • 7. Failing to link indicators to decisions
  • 8. Confusing value judgements with technical judgements
  • 9. Substituting data collection for critical thinking – If no data is available, then the authors suggest using established methods for gathering and synthesizing qualitative expert judgements.
  • 10. Oversimplifying: Ignoring spatial and temporal trade-offs – In giving examples for mistake 10, Failing and Gregory mention the importance of taking into account spatial and temporal trade-offs in designing policies aimed at no-net-loss of biodiversity. Temporary and /or local losses could provide – or be made to – provide gains at a broader scale or on the longer term. The same point is made by Kerry ten Kate in an EM podcast on making biodiversity offsets work (mp3).
  • Biodiversity in Europe – The message from Liège

    Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

    On 22-24 September, representatives from government, NGOs and business met in Liège (Belgium) for the 5th Intergovernmental Conference on “Biodiversity in Europe”.

    The conference produced a “Message from Liège”, in which European conservation leaders list a range of priorities and recommendations to:

  • Conserve ecosystem services
  • Address the biodiversity impacts of climate change
  • Integrate biodiversity into other sectors of society
  • A new target was suggested to “halt any further loss of species and habitats” and, by 2025, “restore degraded areas with an emphasis on links between biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change and human well-being”.

    Opening ceremony of the 5th Intergovernmental Conference on “Biodiversity in Europe” (from the official website)

    Opening ceremony of the 5th Intergovernmental Conference on “Biodiversity in Europe” (from the official website)

    The official conference website provides a wealth of links and information in the form of background reports and documents provided to participants. In fact, the selection on offer would warrant a proper analysis in itself. Meanwhile, take your pick!

    TEEB at centre stage

    Many reports were based on the work of the TEEB project. TEEB stands for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. It aims to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity and the costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, using similar approach as in the Stern report for climate change.

    The TEEB interim report, published in May 2008, was summarized for workshop participants. It’s policy recommendations include expanding the polluter-pay principle to biodiversity loss and ecosystem service degradation (e.g. through the on-site or off-site compensation or offsetting of unavoidable impacts) and to create new markets for biodiversity and ecosystem services (e.g conservation or habitat banks) (see Chapter 4).

    Both instruments require a common currency for offsetting biodiversity and ecosystem services. This requires operational as well as ecologically valid and socially acceptable methods for assessing ecological equivalence. Developing these methods is currently one of the main bottlenecks to the spread of biodiversity offsets.