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The concept of ecosystem services applied to the real world

New and more accurate ways of defining and measuring ecosystem services (ES) have enabled scientists and the wider public to gain a clearer understanding of how nature contributes to human wellbeing.

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Earth’s stock of natural resources such as its geology, soils, air, water and all living organisms forms its natural capital (NC). Some NC assets directly contribute to human wellbeing through the provision of clean water, fertile soil, waste decomposition, the pollination of crops, and climate regulation. These so-called ecosystem services underpin our economy and society to make human life possible. Despite an improved understanding of the link between healthy ecosystems, the delivery of ES and humanity’s welfare, further work is still needed to ensure the ideas of NC and ES become part of the mainstream. The EU-funded OPENNESS project was established to translate these concepts into effective operational frameworks that integrate ES into land, water and urban management. The aim is to inform decision making to support EU social and environmental policy initiatives. ‘The OPENNESS approach was based on applying the concept of ES in 27 real-life case studies covering different sociological-ecological systems in 13 European and 4 non-European countries using real world observations and analysis,’ says Project Coordinator Professor Eeva Furman. ‘The case studies served as test-beds for biophysical, socio-cultural and monetary methods as well as conceptual frameworks to assess and value ES.’ These case studies targeted key policy problems, such as improving water quality, preserving biodiversity, using natural resources more responsibly, and combating climate change through increased use of renewable energy. An important message to emerge was that ES knowledge is most effective when decision-makers, practitioners and key stakeholders have been closely involved in the assessment process. This ensures that all actors find the information relevant and reliable, and are ready to act upon it. Professor Furman comments: ‘Land and water managers and other stakeholders adopted new ideas and practices from the real-life case studies to make a significant difference in urban planning and water and forest management by employing the concept of ES. Furthermore, all case studies succeeded in building intellectual capital and advancing understanding of ES and their role in human wellbeing.’ Project partners created a cascade model, which provides a simple way of visualising and communicating the idea of ecosystem services and their relationships between underlying ecological processes and the benefits that ecosystems provide to people. Researchers also produced an analysis of opportunities and challenges for mainstreaming ES in EU regulatory frameworks. These were subsequently used in the UN Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) regional assessment for Europe and Central Asia and its policy support tools and methodologies for scenario analysis and modelling of biodiversity and ES. Project results were integrated into Oppla, a new knowledge hub developed in collaboration with the OPERAs project. ‘The platform collates information and makes it available to researchers and practitioners, thereby providing a one-stop-shop for accessing up-to-date knowledge on ES and nature based solutions,’ explains Professor Furman. OPENNESS successfully provided ways of helping people to visualise the idea of ES, allowing them to apply it more easily to their work by providing a raft of multi-scale solutions. These can be used in real life by stakeholders, practitioners, and decision makers in public and business organisations by providing new frameworks, data-sets, methods and tools that are fit-for-purpose and sensitive to different decision-making contexts. This will empower communities and organisations within the EU, enabling them to improve the management of natural resources for the wellbeing of its citizens.


Ecosystem services, wellbeing, natural capital, OPENNESS, Oppla

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