What is ESPA?

ESPA’s goal is to ensure that ecosystems will be conserved and managed more sustainably – in ways that alleviate poverty and enhance wellbeing.

ESPA is a global interdisciplinary research programme that aims to give decision-makers and natural resource users the evidence they need to address the challenges of sustainable ecosystem management and poverty reduction. The programme was developed by the UK government in response to the findings of the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that substantial gains in human well-being in recent decades have been achieved at the expense of high and often irreversible levels of ecosystem degradation. ESPA’s key objectives are:

  • To create a strong research and evidence base on the connections among ecosystem services, their dynamics and management, human use and pathways to sustainable poverty reduction;
  • To develop innovative, interdisciplinary research and methodologies, delivering tools and approaches that enable decision-makers to simulate and predict socio-ecological responses to complex social and economic trends;
  • To engage and communicate effectively with policy makers, practitioners and decision makers so that ESPA’s research is well understood and used;
  • To enhance the capacity of researchers in the global South to conduct, lead, use and communicate high quality ESPA-type interdisciplinary research, including through effective international research partnerships.

ESPA will generate the evidence and address the challenge of directing interdisciplinary research to answer policy relevant questions such as: What is the role of ecosystem services in providing safety nets and diversifying livelihood options for vulnerable people and those living in poverty? What is the contribution of sustainably managed ecosystem services to national wealth (and related poverty reduction) and key economic sectors? Can we better manage ecosystems to deliver sustainable, green and inclusive growth? Which ecosystems and ecosystem services are at greatest risk of reaching their environmental limits and tipping points, including those that might tip into irreversible change and cause large scale livelihood and development losses, such as through the destruction and loss of a valuable fishery? What opportunities might ecosystem services provide for pathways out of poverty, including from emerging large-scale sustainable (green) growth opportunities, e.g. markets for carbon sequestration? How do impacts arising from exogenous change – such as climate change – affect the provision of ecosystem services for poverty reduction? How does the political economy and governance context drive decision making about the use and management of ecosystem services from the local to the global level?

If you would like more information, the Programme Memorandum is available, as well as a diagram of ESPA's Governance Structure and its Terms of Reference.

You can read about our most recent results and impacts in our Annual Report 2017.

You can read more about the history of ESPA here.


Featured image courtesy of Ray Witlin / World Bank