Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
June 2018

Ecosystem Services and Judge-Made Law: A Review of Legal Cases in Common Law Countries

Ecosystem Services and Judge-Made Law

This article in the journal Ecosystem Services reviews the prevalence and usage of the concept of ecosystem services in American and other common law legal systems. It suggests that this concept is rarely relied on by courts and other adjudicatory bodies. It identifies 113 cases in seven common law countries, including a handful in the United States, the majority of which discuss ecosystem services and related concepts in only a peripheral manner, indicating that adjudicating bodies are hearing cases that consider ecosystem services in broad strokes rather than as central issues. When cases substantively consider ecosystem services, they view those services through the lens of interpreting and applying existing environmental laws and regulations, including laws that require environmental valuations. The authors identify several trends in cases discussing ecosystem services and recommend courses of action for environmental agencies and litigants interested in furthering ecosystem services protection through the court systems of common law countries.