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Ecosystem services and valuation

Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.
Written by: Sian Morse-Jones
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Humankind depends on nature for a wide range of products and services such as food, medicines, the regulation of floods and climate, as well as spiritual values, recreation, and cultural identity – collectively these benefits are described as ‘ecosystem services’.

Despite their fundamental importance to our everyday lives, ecosystems and the services they provide are frequently undervalued or ignored in decision-making as they are often provided free of charge or because markets fail to adequately capture their true value. This ‘undervaluing’ is considered a key factor in the widespread decline, degradation, and in some cases irreversible loss of ecosystem services, and the biodiversity supporting them.

Ecosystem valuation seeks to remedy this by providing information on the true value of the benefits we gain from nature so that these values can be better incorporated in decisions affecting its use and management.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is working to harness the role that ecosystem valuation can play in supporting the conservation of threatened habitats and species and the sustainable use of natural resources, through a number of projects with our country teams, corporate partners and local stakeholders. We are actively working to increase knowledge and awareness of the benefits provided by biodiversity and ecosystem services, and, critically, the importance of incorporating this information into decision-making.

Ecosystem service valuation projects

‘Natural capital’ can be defined as the world’s stock of natural assets which includes biodiversity, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.

Ecosystem services include the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines. There are also many less tangible ecosystem services such as climate regulation and natural flood defences provided by forests, carbon storage by peatlands, or pollination of crops by insects. There are also cultural ecosystem services such as the inspiration we take from wildlife and the natural environment which we must not forget.

FFI is working to increase knowledge and awareness of the benefits provided by biodiversity and ecosystem services, and critically, the importance of incorporating this information in decision-making, through a number of projects being implemented in collaboration with our country teams, corporate partners and local stakeholders.

  • Valuing Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (VBES) in agricultural landscapes

Through FFI’s long-term partnership with British American Tobacco (BAT), we are implementing a five-year project to increase knowledge and awareness of biodiversity and ecosystem services values in complex agricultural landscapes.

The project also seeks to better understand the potential risks and opportunities associated with an ecosystem valuation approach for conservation, communities and other stakeholders. This project is being implemented in collaboration with our country teams, local partners, and stakeholders at pilot sites in Nicaragua, Kenya, Indonesia, and Romania.

  • Demonstrating the business case for managing biodiversity and ecosystem services

Businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of managing their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity and ecosystem services, yet it remains the case that it may be difficult to justify the internal resources required to do this without hard evidence of the benefits that it will generate for the bottom line.

To address this, FFI is working with companies at a number of operational sites to assess the shareholder value of their biodiversity strategy in monetary terms.

  • Supporting businesses to develop appropriate and pragmatic methods for valuing ecosystem services

There is growing interest among governments, businesses, and NGOs to better understand and communicate the value of the benefits provided by nature so that this information can be factored into decisions, risk management and accounting measures. Yet ecosystem service valuation is inherently complex.

FFI is working with our corporate partners to establish robust, defensible, and pragmatic methods for estimating the value of biodiversity-related externalities at the sites in which they operate and to ensure the full range of values are adequately considered.

Written by
Sian Morse-Jones

Sian Morse-Jones is an Ecosystem Services Specialist within FFI’s Environmental Markets team in London. Sian joined FFI in February 2011. Her role involves providing technical advice and support on ecosystem services and valuation within FFI and to partner organisations, and managing FFI’s Valuing Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services project, part of our aligned programme of work with British America Tobacco’s Biodiversity Partnership. Prior to joining FFI, Sian was a post-doctoral researcher at The Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) at the University of East Anglia, working on ecosystem service valuation on the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania (‘Valuing the Arc’). Sian holds a PhD in Environmental Economics, and an MSc in Environmental Technology, from Imperial College London. Sian’s work has taken her to the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, Guyana and Zanzibar.

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