Safeguarding local equity as global values of ecosystem services rise
Internationally, many advocates and governments have proposed the establishment of systems of Payments for Environmental Services (PES), notably a system for compensating people for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).
The assumption has been made that if those 'free' services that the environment provides (e.g., timber, a clean and steady water supply, sequestering carbon) are properly valued and paid for, the environment will be protected and poverty will be reduced.
The fact that this assumption has not been validated and the connections between ecosystem services and poverty are poorly understood is a serious problem, especially given that billions of dollars per year are predicted to flow to developing countries once Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programmes are fully implemented.
Experience from other sectors raises concerns that these schemes may not benefit poor people uniformly and may even make the poorest worse off (e.g. by excluding them from land or traditional land uses), undermine existing benefit-sharing systems and increase disparities. Such changes in social equity are a key factor in determining whether rising values of ecosystem services have a positive or negative impact on poverty alleviation in affected communities.
This project brought together an interdisciplinary team of collaborators from universities (Southampton, Oxford, Rutgers and the Australian National University), a policy think-tank (Overseas Development Institute), regional research and training centres (The Center for People and Forests - RECOFTC, and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center - CATIE) and a regional non-governmental organisation (Ugandan Coalition for Sustainable Development) to develop a conceptual framework that analysed the links between ecosystem services and sustainable poverty reduction, examining in particular how benefits derived from ecosystem services were distributed amongst different stakeholders, the factors underlying these processes and their potential impacts.
This framework contributed to the critical challenge of the equitable management of ecosystems in a manner that benefits poor people. In particular, it helped decision-makers in the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme and Payments for Ecosystem Services programmes minimise negative impacts on equity and maximise positive impacts on poverty alleviation.
In order to accomplish its objectives, the project:
- developed a rigorous definition of the different dimensions and types of equity in the context of ecosystem services
- developed a conceptual framework that described how changes in the global value of ecosystem services lead to changes in equity at the local level, and the key factors that influenced these outcomes, drawing on evidence from 6-8 specially commissioned background papers analysing existing knowledge on the equity impacts of high or rising value of ecosystem services (e.g., in forestry, mining and water)
- tested the framework in four case studies (Uganda, Bolivia, India and Cambodia)
- reviewed the conceptual framework in the light of the case study findings.
Communication and dissemination were ongoing activities throughout the project. Engagement with local, national and regional stakeholders was assured through workshops, briefing papers and popular communication materials.
The project produced a video, an innovative way of targeting policy-makers and project developers, together with an associated toolkit. The academic audience was reached through journal articles and conference presentations. Electronic dissemination of policy briefs, targeted at an international audience, and eventual journal articles were disseminated through the extensive networks facilitated by the project partners.