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1.2.1 Ecosystem services assessment and valuation

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One of the reasons we have often failed to manage the natural environment sustainably is because the benefits we receive from it are not always as obvious as the benefits we get from economic development.

At the heart of the Ecosystem Approach is the idea of the interdependence of human-environment relations. Our own health and well-being as a species and as individuals is intimately connected to the health of the natural environment.

However, it is very difficult to make decisions about how to use our natural resources when the environmental, social and economic changes that would result from particular actions are all measured in different ways.

The Ecosystem Services Approach attempts to address these problems in a number of innovative ways. Firstly, it aims to assess and communicate the connections between human well-being and ecosystems by linking the benefits that we obtain back to the environmental processes that provide them. This relationship is often thought of in terms of a cascade:

1 2 1 EcosystemServicesCascade

Secondly, the concept of ecosystem services aims to provide a common language that enables a range of different stakeholders to work together on integrated solutions. This common language is primarily based on the idea of value and a key aspect of the Ecosystem Services approach is the capacity to value ecosystem services. It is about showing how important, how valuable, the environment is to our health and well-being.


Assessment or Valuation ?

The assessment of ecosystem services intends to trace back and forth the dependences of human wellbeing to ecosystem components, processes and functions. The assessment can include any kind of available knowledge on these. It can take the shape of narratives, illustration, quantification, conceptual or simulation models...

Valuation is a component of the assessment. It is the qualification and quantification of the benefits to humans.

  • When possible, this valuation can be done in monetary terms. This is relevant for commercial benefits, but can also be applied to non commercial uses. The non-use benefits of nature conservation and other environmental development can also be measured in monetary terms, under the condition that valuation methodologies are properly implemented.
  • In any case, other criteria can be used to recognise values attached to ecosystem services particularly in the case of benefits that are not linked to direct uses. One should recognise that values are not only of economic nature. There are in nature also moral and ethic values.


1 2 1 120 NOAA Econ Ecosystem ServicesA two minute feature from the NOAA “Econ 120” video series where an odd little economist explains crucial economic principles in everyday terms and shows how they relate to the important decisions faced by environmental managers. What does economics have to say about the beauty of a coastal wetland? Does economics provide the tools to help us maintain both economic and environmental health? And what values do free ecosystem services provide for us?

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