Coverage of the Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference
Practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and educators in the ecosystem services field have arrived from all over the world (47 countries if you're counting) in Portland, Oregon for the 5th Annual Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference. Ecosystem Marketplace's Genevieve Bennett is blogging the conference.
The morning session hits the ground running with keynotes from Stephen Polasky of the University of Minnesota and the Natural Capital Project (presentation title: "What's needed to mainstream ecosystem services?"), Pushpam Kumar ("Use and abuse of economic value of ecosystem services: what can be done better?"), and Michel Masozera ("The role of ecosystem services in Sub-Saharan Africa's transition to a green economy"). Here's a summary of Polasky's presentation, with more on Kumar, Masozera, and the panel Q&A to come.
Polasky starts off the plenary with a quick introduction to the rationale for mainstreaming ecosystem services into our policy and economic decisions, before diving into a proposed research agenda for ecosystem services. Noting that economic valuation "attracts attention, but is only part of the story," he spoke about the need for better biophysical and socio-economic analysis that are flexible to a range of scenarios, transferable, and spatially and temporally explicit. In turn, these models inform a process of stakeholder engagement, which refines scenario development, which in turn improves model outputs - the idea being an iterative policy and stakeholder process allowing us to both better assess our ecosystem impacts and better manage them.
He introduced a few case examples: an analysis of land-use/land-cover change in Oregon's Willamette Basin modeling impacts and trade-offs on multiple ecosystem services under three different land-use scenarios, using NatCap's InVEST tool, and a similar study carried out in Minnesota. The Oregon example showed a striking difference in net present values of commodities produced included ecosystem services, and much higher provision of commodity values under a 'conservation' scenario. In Minnesota, the study demonstrated how under our current set of accounts, the values of increasing ecosystem services don't necessarily accrue to landowners. Instead, in the absence of tools to let us evaluate trade-offs, the incentives are still stacked toward production that burns through natural capital over the long term.
The question of weighing trade-offs and evaluating outcomes appeared again in Polasky's next example: water funds in Latin America, which must answer a range of complicated questions about land-use, development priorities, management interventions and attendant costs, and social and ecological priorities in deciding where and how to best invest in protecting natural capital.
Finally, Polasky turned to the question of communication in anchoring ecological concerns into the mainstream - always an interesting topic! Your grasp of psychology and framing can make or break your message, Polasky said, then offered a few tips, like focusing on 'public health' rather than 'ecological health', presenting change incrementally, and incorporating behavioral 'nudges' into our every day choices that make conservation the default option. View his full presentation here.