How we value ecosystem services: The Evolution of a Concept

Wednesday, 7 February 2018 - 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
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The concept of ecosystem services gained prominence in international policymaking circles as a mechanism to achieve sustainable development, and became shorthand for efforts to value nature’s contribution to human wellbeing, usually in economic terms. This paper traces the history and evolution of actors shaping and diffusing ecosystem services concept. Despite the potential for a new form of “triple bottom line” capitalism, the private sector is nearly entirely absent, as international organizations continue to dominate the policy space. Surprisingly, despite its apparent maturity as an international policy instrument, a great deal of past, present and future ES activities remain focused on capacity building, rather than valuing, and paying, for nature’s services. As a consequence, ES remains weak as a policy concept aimed at encouraging the sustainable use of natural capital, and prone to definitional vagaries, undermining its practical use as an alternative model to the “single bottom line” of profit maximization.