An environment for wellbeing: Pathways out of poverty. Policy messages from the ESPA programme (Executive Summary version)

Authors Directorate, E.S.P.A.
Year of Publication 2018
Type of Publication Policy and Practice Brief


The Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme is a global, interdisciplinary research programme that aims to give decision-makers and natural resource users the evidence they need for more sustainable ecosystem management and effective poverty reduction. Ecosystem services support human society: covering everything from freshwater flows and soil quality to fisheries productivity and climate regulation – and including cultural and spiritual values.

The Government of the United Kingdom created the ESPA research programme in 2010. It has taken on tough questions, such as: Do ecosystem services provide safety nets for people in poverty? Can ecosystem services help vulnerable people to diversify their livelihood options and security, and to enhance other aspects of their physical and mental wellbeing? How should environmental goods and services be prioritised in development, and how could they contribute to sustainable growth in developing countries and emerging economies? Are there local and regional biophysical limits and thresholds that cannot be avoided and how might they be identified?

Now ESPA’s research is more timely and relevant than ever. As the programme comes to a close in 2018, this report provides the headline messages from ESPA’s research. These messages are for policy-makers and natural resource managers the world over, to support decisions for a fairer, more just world, and a healthier environment for current and future generations.

The headline message of ESPA's research is: policies and programmes that use environmental resources inevitably have implications and trade-offs for human wellbeing. They may even carry hidden human costs. That goes for environment-first policies, such as protected areas, as well as development-first policies, such as agriculture. The implications and potential human costs must be adequately understood and explicitly addressed through open, just, democratic processes.

ESPA research has looked at the multiple dimensions of wellbeing  - and suggests that the different ways that social groups (for example, women and men, youth and elders, ethnic groups, rich and poor) use and value environmental resources should be recognised in decision-making. ESPA research also emphasises that equity and justice are environmental issues.

Explore these ideas and the contributing ESPA literature in the Executive Summary (8 pages, download at right). You can also explore the interactive version of ESPA's summary for policy-makers - find the English version and editions in Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, French, Spanish and Portuguese (European, Brazilian) at