Implementing policy targets
When the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit closed its meeting in the final days of October 2010, it did so with the formal adoption of the Aichi targets, 20 headline targets that would address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss.
One of the targets was Target 14 which stated that "By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable."
That's all good, but how can we actually measure that this is actually implemented?
In an article recently published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, centre researchers Oonsie Biggs and Thomas Elmqvist, together with centre research fellow Belinda Reyers from South Africa, and colleagues from the US and the UK have developed a holistic 'matrix approach' for measuring ecosystem services aligned with Target 14.
Although there have been many attempts at making multidimensional policy targets measurable, they have mostly been compromised by the complex, interconnected and dynamic nature of ecosystem services. Add the requirement of measuring human well-being and you are in for a massive task.
"We believe that what is required is an approach or a set of measures that make explicit the dynamic linkages between social and ecological structures and processes"
Oonsie Biggs, lead author
The approach, which Biggs and her colleagues call a Social-Ecological-Systems approach, aims to help measure four important aspects:
1. The social and ecological factors that produce ecosystem services
2. The bundles of services produced and their benefit flows
3. The changes in human well-being and how that influences the management of social-ecological systems
4. Any changes in management and how that affects the production of ecosystem services
"This approach recognises that in a human-dominated environment, social factors such as skills, management regimes and technology also affect the production of ecosystem services," Thomas Elmqvist says.
Narrowing down services and their benefits
In contrast to existing frameworks, this approach aims to identify the benefits associated with a bundle of interacting services and see how these benefits reach different groups.
The first step is to identify a group. Take the example of vulnerable women. By focusing on the specific needs of this group, the approach can help identify relevant factors of well-being such as basic materials, health and security. The next step isto link these dimensions to the required ecosystem services needed to guarantee these factors, such as access to domestic water, food, fuel and protection from natural disasters.
Step three would be a further prioritisation of the ecosystem services to identify what exactly must be included to reach a target. Take access to domestic water for instance. This would require services like water purification and erosion control services.
"From the final list of relevant services, we can identify the fundamental social and ecological services required to ultimately reach a target," Oonsie Biggs explains.
Based on this methodology, Biggs and her colleagues believe it is easier to measure the importance of an ecosystem service and explore its value for setting policy targets.
"This will provide a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the close linkages between social and ecological systems while at the same time making them more tangible and thus measurable."
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