Wellbeing: For whom and how?

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


Environment-related policies and programmes are often assumed to generate ‘win-wins’ for communities and the environment. In reality, they can work against people who are already disadvantaged.

After nine years of research,spanning 125 projects in over 50 countries, the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme is calling for a stronger focus on the quality of life for disadvantaged people, based on approaches that recognise the multiple dimensions of their wellbeing.

Key messages of this ESPA Policy and Practice Brief include:

1. Research suggests that ‘win-win’ assumptions about links between ecosystem services and human prosperity should be treated with caution: what looks like a ‘win-win’ may involve hidden trade-offs that harm disadvantaged people.

2. Those who are most disadvantaged are also the most dependent on their natural environment and, at the same time, most likely to be marginalised by policy interventions that ignore links between the environment and their wellbeing.

3. Wellbeing is a multidimensional phenomenon that goes beyond income to include subjective cultural values, relationships and access to resources, as well as varying personal aspirations.

4. The benefits of ecosystem services are often distributed unfairly because of formal and informal governance processes – that work against the interests of disadvantaged people, fuelling structural or historical marginalisation related to, for example, gender and indigenous cultures.

5. Environment-related development interventions that emphasise justice, equity and governance from the outset could enhance nature’s positive contributions to people’s wellbeing.

6. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is encouraged to build on its existing work on nature’s contributions to people (NCP) and quality of life by enhancing:

• its work on multidimensional aspects of wellbeing and their variations across social groups, and;

• understanding of the influence of formal and informal institutions on access to NCP for different social groups.

7. This aligns well with the broader development aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), contributing to their ambition to ‘leave no one behind’.