Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The IPCC at gunpoint

Monday, February 1st, 2010

A recent article in The Economist reports on some unverified assertions concerning the future of himalayan glaciers having made their way into the latest IPCC report. They give details on the review process and some of its failings. The issue is giving yet more weight to those who are willing to maintain the status quo and not look into mitigation and adaptation options seriously. Just look at the comments and judge for youself. Note that the comments tell as much about the readership of The Economist as about the opposing sides of the debate…

The IPCC has replied to its critiques. You can read their statement here (pdf)

What is an ecosystem service?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

It’s never too late to ask!

A list of definitions of ecosystem services had been compiled by the DiverSus project a while ago. It’s a nice starting point into the question of defining which properties (composition / structure / function) of ecosystems are relevant to the benefits / goods / services people obtain from them. Check it out on their wiki.

Non-market environmental commodities – what else?

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The debate continues on finding appropriate units of biodiversity and ecosystem services to which value can be assigned.

The value can be monetary but not necessarily. In fact, many policy instruments that aim to incorporate ecosystem services or biodiversity into cost-benefit analyses do not require that landscapes, ecosystems or species be assigned a price tag. The recent EU directive on environmental liability (2004/35/EC) or the US Oil Pollution Act are example where impacts on ecosystems are compensated for by restoring equivalent resources (biodiversity) and services rather than “paying what they are worth”. Nevertheless, monetary valuation techniques such as contingent valuation are still very much in use.

In the context of contingent valuation, as well as in the case of like-for-like compensation required under directive 2004/35/EC, finding appropriate “non-market environmental commodities” that can be valued, substituted or replaced is all the hype.

James Boyd and Alan Krupnick of Resources for the Future recently published a discussion paper on the subject:

A virtue of market commodities (if you’re an analyst) is that markets not only yield prices, they define units of consumption. A grocery store is full of cans, boxes, loaves, and bunches. The number of these units bought yields a set of quantity measures to which prices can be attached.

A key challenge faced by nonmarket economists is clarification of the nonmarket commodities that yield utility. Nature presents us with many possible units to choose from.

Should we use the units governments monitor? Should we use units used in economic studies? The ones used by ecologists? Should we use what laypeople tell us matters most to them?

In the paper, Boyd and Krupnick explore the non-market environmental commodities to which monetary values are attached and offer a set of principles to guide the selection of such commodities. Their analysis is based on the “ecological production theory” that was introduced by Boyd and Banzhaf in 2006 (pdf). What else?

Can ecosystems be decomposed into commodities? Should they?

Can ecosystems be decomposed into commodities? Should they?

Research priorities according to Rubicode

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

The RUBICODE project on “Rationalising biodiversity conservation in dynamic ecosystems” has published its latest and final newsletter.

Among other products, the project has prepared an interesting report on research priorities for ecosystem services (pdf here). The report lists 11 priorities, which are commented briefly below.

  • Quantify the role of biodiversity, including uncharismatic and speciose groups of organisms such as invertebrates, lower plants and fungi, in ecosystem function and service provision.

    This is a major goal of ecosystem service science when it comes to informing decision-makers concerning the management of biodiversity. It is somewhat overarching.

  • Develop trait-based approaches to ecosystem service assessment which include: (i) improved knowledge of trait-based multi-trophic linkages within ecosystems; (ii) trait based thresholds for the provision of services; and (iii) trait-based indicators to assess and define quantitatively service provision at multiple scales.

    Trait-based approaches, also labelled functional diversity approaches, are now well developped for linking biodiversity, ecosystem properties and ecosystem services, in particular for plant diversity. As well as being grounded in theory, they offer useful indicators that are often require less expertise than the identification of species and the estimation of their abundance. Expanding these approaches to address multi-trophic linkages, thresholds and multiple scale is the next step.

  • Develop improved methods for the integrated assessment of ecosystem services at different spatial and temporal scales, including methods for: (i) investigating interactions between the demand and supply of multiple ecosystem services; (ii) upscaling and downscaling; and (iii) integrating valuation processes and results in impact assessments and models.

    This point relates particularly well with policy and management issues. As the incorporation of ecosystem services into the decision-making process of land management marches forward such questions will most likely gain in practicality and lose their esoteric touch – which is probably a good thing.

  • Identify thresholds in the relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, ecosystem services and human well-being to identify points beyond which the level of ecosystem service delivery changes dramatically and perhaps irreversibly. Thresholds again…
  • Identify and quantify the impact of direct and indirect socio-economic and environmental drivers on ecosystem services, and develop tools to design and evaluate policy options for ecosystem service management under uncertain futures.

    As well as uncertainty in the future changes in direct and indirect drivers, ecosystem service science should also assist decision makers in incorporating uncertainty in the scientific knowledge itself. Given the limitations and contextuality of what we know of the dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystems, dealing with uncertainty should be central to the design and evaluation of policy options as well as concrete – on the ground – actions.

  • Improve understanding of the role of the cultural, economic and policy contexts in ecosystem service assessment, particularly in the choice of: (i) metrics, valuation and appraisal methods; (ii) stakeholder involvement; (iii) required levels of precision; and (iv) policy instruments and decision support tools.

    As well as understanding who and what determines the choice of metrics and who is called upon to value ecosystem services, the conceptual bases for these choices should be made explicit (and possibly challenged).

  • Develop an improved classification for ecosystem services and values, which includes values of flows of ecosystem services and stocks of ecosystem assets and allows for the distinction between final and intermediate services.

    Double accounting in the definition of ecosystem service is a recurrent problem, in particular among ecologists. The issue will be discussed in a later post. Meanwhile, you can read the excellent paper by Boyd & Banzhaf (2006).

  • Enhance the usefulness of value, price and cost estimates for ecosystem services by: (i) improving database coverage, quality, depth and access; (ii) filling key gaps in valuation evidence; (iii) investigating replication, validity and transfer of functional assumptions and values estimates; and (iv) developing agreed protocols for comparing and transferring value estimates.

    These priorities are central to the incorporation of ecosystem services in mainstream decision making concerning land-use and natural resource management.

  • Develop tools, methods and decision-support systems to assist the multi-level governance of ecosystem services. What does that mean?
  • Quantify the role of multifunctional land management and landscape patterns on the provision of ecosystem services and develop options to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem integrity outside protected areas.

    The goal of making land management more biodiversity- and ecosystem service-friendly is a very notable trend in public policies for agriculture and forestry (at least in the developed world). Providing quantitative data on ecosystem service provision by alternative policy options is necessary for designing precise incentives schemes that actually serve the goal of ecosystem service provision (rather than the goal of satisfying a particular political base…). Such incentive schemes are an essential component of the policy mix for biodiversity and ecosystem service enhancement.

  • Develop tools and methods to promote the uptake of business opportunities associated with the sustainable management of ecosystem service delivery.

    The development of biodiversity and ecosystem service offsets in recent years is a step in this direction. Hopefully, ecosystem service scientists will embrace this trend and strengthen its scientific basis.

  • Did you notice how long the list is?