Ecosystem service indicators: are we ready to measure ecosystem performance?

2012 EEEN Forum / Evaluation

Wouter Van Reeth, Flemish Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO)

Since the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) policymakers and other stake­holders are increasingly embracing the idea that ecosystems are capital assets that can yield a valu­able flow of services, if they are properly managed. Ecosystem restoration with the purpose of safe­guarding or optimising ecosystem services has become an explicit policy objective at an international, European, national and regional level. As a result, the per­form­ance of ecosystems to deliver services and support human well-being also becomes an explicit part of policy planning, design of policy instru­ments, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Review studies like the MA and ‘The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity’ (TEEB) advocate the development of ecosystem service indicators to better inform this policy cycle. Building on concepts from ecological economics and public administration, we pro­pose a conceptual framework for measuring ‘ecosystem performance’ in a DPSIR-context. Tradi­tionally biodiversity policy in Flanders has predominantly been motivated from an ecocentric perspective, based on nature’s intrinsic value. Ecosystem performance is pro­posed here as an anthropocentric perspective on ecosystem management. It captures the capital base (stock), output (flow of goods and services) and outcome (socio-economic benefits) of eco­systems. A well-balanced set of indicators may help in visualising synergies or trade-offs between both perspectives. Next we present assessment of the indicators that have recently been proposed in Flanders. We conclude with some recommendations for the development and use of ecosystem service indicators, in the context of the new policy objectives that have been formulated at the inter­national and European level.

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