B.2) Why are Ecosystem Services important for our society?


Learning Objectives

  • Learning how the ecosystem services approach can support strategies and policies
  • Identifying the instruments by which EU is acting for Ecosystem services

Ecosystem Services approach changes our vision of the relationship with nature and environment

Biodiversity, natural resource protection, preserving the environment, and much more, are topics that greatly involve contemporary society. Very often we measure our relationships with these elements only in terms of “impacts”. The Ecosystem services approach allows a more integrated vision, introducing the idea that, actually, our interest is in preserving the capacity of nature to continue to provide the services, goods and benefits we need for our life. This way we can connect any loss of biodiversity, or the disruption of an ecological process, to a decrease in the wealth we receive from nature.

Apparently, it seems quite complicated to understand and manage ecosystem services, but this is not so: it is just “complex”. Our society is founded on complexity, and human ingenuity has invented, and still is inventing, efficient solutions to face it. We need only mention the new technologies and the management of big data through super computers. We are working on climate change and forecasts of extremely variable conditions, such as the weather, which are more and more sophisticated and reliable. So the same capacity can be applied to ecosystems in order to adopt a more holistic vision of our relationship with nature.

Considering Ecosystem Services categories (regulating, provisioning and cultural) this means that we should pay very great attention to those ecosystem services which underpin the processes we are not able to manage. Indeed, humans are more and more capable of producing foods via extremely sophisticated technologies, but they cannot control or reproduce complex ecological processes. So the category of regulating ecosystem services appears to be the one which it is really important to know and to protect. According to this perspective, regulating ecosystem services have to be at the core of biodiversity protection strategies.

Application the Ecosystem services approach in AlpES

The Ecosystem Services approach can be used to support decision-making towards sustainable development. Besides the protection of nature and the sustainable use of natural resources, managing ecosystem services can achieve other important socioeconomic goals, such as poverty reduction or employment. Hence the scope for application of this approach is wide, and several political and economic instruments have been developed.

In the AlpES project, the scope of our analysis has been restricted to instruments for environmental management and territorial development. For this reason, suitable indicators were identified to give reliable information about the state and location of ES in the municipalities of the Alpine Space.

The analysis and maps provided by AlpES support:

  • Decision making processes, allowing e.g. comparison and benchmark between different areas of the Alps and also between municipalities;
  • Land planning strategies, at supra-communal, regional or even wider level, furnishing a vision of the presence and relevance of the Ecosystem services concerned;

Biodiversity and natural resources protection through appreciation of the level of ecosystem services present in a given area.

European Union strategies involving Ecosystem Services

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The European Union has developed, in the last decades, several policies to halt the loss of biodiversity and promote the sustainable use of resources. Within these strategies, ecosystem services are addressed in more or less direct ways. The EU biodiversity Strategy to 2020 includes several targets and actions dedicated to the assessment and protection of ecosystem services. Initiatives like MAES (Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services) and CICES (Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services) were direct consequences of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to support the classification and mapping of ES in the member states, and especially to mainstream awareness of the concept of ecosystem services.

Some European countries´ assessments are particularly relevant, such as the UK NEA (UK National Ecosystem Assessment) or the TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), developed in Germany.