What are “Ecosystem Services”? At first hearing, they sound like a firm of consultants who help you repair your ailing ecosystem. In fact it’s the other way round, the service is provided by people with ecosystems to people who no longer have one, and who need one. For example if your forest, or your peat bog is absorbing carbon, it is providing a service to other people who are producing excessive CO2 and need something, somewhere to absorb it. Other ecosystem services include climate regulation, maintenance of biodiversity, water conservation and supply, and the preservation of aesthetic, cultural and spiritual values. The emerging view is that the people
receiving these ecosystem services should start to pay for them.
The United Nations Environment Programme, together with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, has
recently published a document called: Developing International Payments for Ecosystem Services, which states: “By offering economic incentives for maintaining ecosystems services, Payments for Ecosystems Services operates on the basis that market forces can offer an efficient and effective means of supporting sustainable development objectives”. This would involve market mechanisms which enable financial investments to flow from areas requiring ecosystems services, such as the maintenance of biodiversity, to areas providing these services. The predicted pattern of these flows is from urban to rural areas, and from the political and economic “core” of the global north to the “periphery” of the global south. The financial benefits are received by what the UN terms local “environmental communities” — the people living in the landscapes providing these newly priced ecosystem services. In return
these people will restructure their own relationships with land to conform more closely with the kind of landscapes now
so valued globally.
An image on the front page of this document makes the hope of this approach clear. Depicting bank notes of various currencies embedded as leaves in verdant forest foliage, it seems to suggest that it may indeed be possible for money to grow on
trees. Nature is money, and it is only the correct attribution of financial value that stands between the conservation of desirable
biodiversity and its conversion into undesirable alternatives. …