Advanced LEVEL CONTENTS

A.2) Implementation of Ecosystem Services in governance and decision-making processes

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Learning Objectives

  • Dealing with the use of Ecosystem Services in decision-making and governance processes

  • Comprehending the AlpES approach in using ecosystem services for environmental management and decision-making

Over the last decade, scientific literature has debated widely about the role of ecosystem services in decision-making processes concerning environmental management and territorial development. There is a unanimous agreement in recognizing that the ecosystem services approach can help individuals and institutions to recognize the value of nature and, consequently, to have more information to better invest in conservation, fostering at the same time human wellbeing.

Ecosystem Services in decision-making processes

Over the last decade, scientific literature has debated widely about the role of ecosystem services in decision-making processes concerning environmental management and territorial development. There is a unanimous agreement in recognizing that the ecosystem services approach can help individuals and institutions to recognize the value of nature and, consequently, to have more information to better invest in conservation, fostering at the same time human wellbeing.

Decisions that necessitate the understanding of ecosystem services are often social decisions, or at least they have public consequences, so the first step to consider in using ecosystem services in decision-making processes is the huge variety of stakeholders potentially involved. Considering this, the starting point for efficiently using ecosystem services in decision-making is a clear understanding of the concept (definition and characteristics).

Without being exhaustive, the following list indicates some elements to take into account when using the ecosystem services concept in decision-making processes related to environmental management and territorial development:

  • scientists have to consider how to communicate their findings more clearly to the public and decision makers;
  • to focus on defining ecosystem services, avoiding ambiguities. Hitherto, some grey areas have remained when defining ecosystem services characteristics: one example is the risk of confusion, among the public, between goods and benefits, and also of some misunderstanding about the role of abiotic ecosystem elements in supporting the ecosystem chain.

Furthermore, we can set a logical sequence of activities for using ecosystem services in a decision-making process:

  1. to define the decision context and motivations for addressing the ecosystem services research or assessment correctly: spreading awareness, landscape management, accounting ecosystem resources etc.;
  2. to decide if the decision process needs an approach to ecological phenomena alone or if cultural values must also be taken into account. Considering cultural ecosystem services is surely the best solution, but this involves a less precise assessment because cultural ecosystem services undergo a higher subjective appreciation;
  3. to classify the ecosystem services involved in the decision process according to their characteristics, mainly whether they have a linear or nonlinear behaviour. Indeed, it is important to highlight all the elements that make the decision scenarios uncertain;

To understand what the scope and the strength of the decision process is, in order to foresee the effects of the choices made. Indeed, if the decision process involves, for example, the possibility of introducing a new law, it is worth considering that this can intervene more efficiently in preserving specific natural resources, generating provisioning ecosystem services, while it might be less effective in changing social behaviours involved in cultural ecosystem services.

How the AlpES approach to ES can contribute to environmental management and territorial development

The AlpES project provides information and data to support decision-making processes. The AlpES approach is explained below.

Spatially explicit maps are perhaps the most direct, efficient and effective way to communicate with decision-makers about the state of ES in the Alpine Space. The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and the MAES Initiative both call on practitioners to generate such maps for use in advancing sustainable management. AlpES includes maps created for the selected ES, where they are each represented by an indicator set comprised of a maximum of 3 indicators (supply, flow and demand).

Mapping ES indicators aids decision-makers in understanding trends in complex ecological processes and can provide them with policy performance metrics. Their use is now more important than ever. Indeed, we are experiencing societal, economic, environmental and climatic changes at a markedly fast pace. ES indicators are useful tools for interpreting these changes and responding proactively to manage their consequences. This is especially relevant in areas like the Alpine Space, which can be more severely impacted by such changes.

The results of the AlpES “Mapping and Assessment” work package offer a comprehensive overview of the state of some of the ES from which Alpine Space communities benefit. The maps provide detailed information on estimating the resources and potential of the Alps and the human pressure to which they are subject. In general, our results show that Alpine ecosystems are capable of supplying a number of services at a level that meets the local demand without needing to draw upon external sources. However, high tourism flow, agricultural land exploitation and burgeoning populations in many cities of the Alpine Space are putting strain on the natural capital of the Alps and their surrounding regions. Mapping and assessing ES can also serve to shed light on services and benefits that are currently unused or overlooked, which could open up new opportunities to managers and policy-makers.

Many finer-scale insights are also available to those managers who explore the AlpES results in the WebGIS. For example, natural resource managers in Hallstatt might examine the difference between flow and demand for protection forests, and then invest in relatively cheap protection forest mitigation solutions based upon this information. International carbon strategists could evaluate the differences in the Flow & Supply and Demand indicators for CO2 Sequestration and incorporate this information in the development of regional or international plans for carbon neutrality. The information presented in this report is only the beginning: we have barely begun to scratch the surface of the tangible policy and management outcomes this resource can inform.

Future opportunities in this field include the modelling of projected changes and trends in the state of ES; scientifically sound forecasts of the state of ES would be a major boon to managers. Furthermore, as much research has thus far focussed on single ES supplied by an ecosystem, future studies should aim to investigate how different ES are interconnected. For decision-making and management purposes, it is critically important to analyse the relationships between all ES, i.e., their trade-offs and synergies.