Policies for ecosystem services enhancement

  • Policies and policy frameworks for ecosystem services (ES) are relatively weak and still emerging, interacting with sectoral policies for specific ES
  • Individual and specific ES such as those related to biodiversity and water benefit from existing sector-driven policies, while less tangible and cross-sector ES such as pollination and climate have less policy support and instruments
  • Climate regulation services which includes carbon sequestration and climate resilience have been catalysed by international policy instruments
  • A few countries (e.g. Costa Rica and Vietnam) have developed specific policies for ES enhancement; however, there have been challenges with such attempts as a single policy falls short of addressing multiple ES and ecosystem functions
  • Determining appropriate policy instruments and the right mix of instruments requires rigorous evidence-based analysis and understanding of the trade-offs and synergies between instruments, especially when decision-making requires balancing multiple ecosystem services

Ecosystem services have increasingly been highlighted as central to human wellbeing1,2,3. Ecosystem services refer to the various benefits that humans gain from nature and functioning ecosystems. Four groups of ecosystem services are commonly recognized: provisioning (e.g. food, drinking water, fibre), regulating (e.g. climate, disease control, flood prevention, waste-water self-cleaning), supporting (e.g. nutrient cycling, crop pollination, maintenance of genetic diversity), and cultural (e.g. recreation, spiritual)4 services. These together play a key role in determining overall economic, social and environmental development5. As a result, interest in various aspects related to maintaining and enhancing ecosystem services, with research on characterization and valuation taking centre stage6,7. Several recent publications have highlighted the paucity and need for research on policies and policy frameworks for maintaining and enhancing ecosystem services8,9. Such policies may need to support four processes of linking knowledge with action10:

  1. Awareness, diagnosis of issues and (international) agreements on monitoring progress,
  2. Political will and commitment to deal with them (‘willingness to act’),
  3. Synergy with the totality of existing policy instruments (‘ability to act’), and
  4. Support for continuous innovation in the search for fair and efficient solutions.


As a consequence of a wide range of ‘issues’ that went through the stages of awareness, denial, diagnosis and acceptance of their importance by a sufficiently large part of the public discourse, political commitment has been expressed to deal with them. Given the sequence in which this happened in various countries, a patchwork exists for dealing with issues with a specific area focus and generically (within the jurisdiction of the institutions that have emerged), as shown in Table 19.1.

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