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Protecting natural capital for human wellbeing and sustainable development

Protecting natural capital for human wellbeing and sustainable development

The modern concept of 'ecosystem services' has progressed significantly in recent decades. Conceived of primarily as a communication tool in the late 1970s to explain societal dependence on nature, it now incorporates economic dimensions and provides help to decision makers for implementing effective conservation policies which support human wellbeing and sustainable development.
UNEP's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA)1, published in 2005, marked a major milestone in the historical development of the ecosystem services concept. It sought a strong scientific understanding for how ecosystems affect human welfare and how they can be sustainably managed.
Research into ecosystem services has flourished considerably since the publication of the MA, notably the ongoing Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project2, which is making a compelling case for promoting conservation by estimating the economic benefits of ecosystems to human welfare and the economic cost to society of ecosystem decline.
This thematic issue provides a snapshot of the latest research in the most recent chapter of ecosystem services' story. It aims to help guide future conservation and sustainable development policies.
Placing an economic value on an ecosystem service is no simple task, and much can be learned by sharing experiences. The article 'Evaluating biodiversity and ecosystem services in France' explains how values were calculated for French Government policy making, while casting a critical eye on valuation methods.
It is necessary to classify different types of services when incorporating ecosystem services into decision-making. However, UK researchers warn that a single classification scheme is inappropriate. For more details, see: 'The importance of social and political context for classifying ecosystem services'.
Research shows that an ecosystem services approach integrates well with other types of conservation management. Studies described in 'Dispelling myths around ecosystem service projects' and 'Improved biodiversity and ecosystem services go hand-in-hand' indicate that biodiversity conservation projects and ecological restoration projects can provide win-win solutions for boosting biodiversity protection and ecosystem service provision.
Meanwhile, a case study from the Amazon demonstrates how REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) also enhances ecosystem services, such as maintaining water quality. See: 'REDD improves forest provision of ecosystem services'.
Finally, we must manage our environment so that it continues providing essential ecosystem services. 'Mapping Europe's potential to provide ecosystem goods and services' describes a new tool to help to achieve just this.
Damage to the natural environment is seriously threatening its ability to provide vital goods and services, with considerable economic and social repercussions. The concept of ecosystem services is a useful and important tool to enable a better understanding of these repercussions and preserving and enhancing natural capital, and can help support the implementation of key European nature protection legislation, such as Natura 2000.

Dr Dolf de Groot
Wageningen University, The Netherlands

See: www.MAweb.org
See: www.teebweb.org TEEB's results will be presented at the Convention on Biodiversity Protection's tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) in Nagoya, Japan, in October this year: www.cbd.int

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