The presumption is that ecosystem services (ES) approaches provide a better basis for environmental decision making than other approaches because they make explicit the connection between human well-being and ecosystem structures and processes. However, the existing literature does not provide a precise description of ES approaches for environmental policy and decision making, nor does it assess whether these applications will make a difference in terms of changing decisions and improving outcomes. This article in Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management describes three criteria that can be used to identify whether and to what extent ES approaches are being applied: (1) connect impacts all the way from ecosystem changes to human well-being, (2) consider all relevant ecosystem services affected by the decision, (3) consider and compare the changes in well-being of different stakeholders. As a demonstration of these criteria, the article looks at if and how the criteria were met in different decision-making contexts using an analysis format that describes the type of policy, the relevant scale(s), the decisions or questions, the decision maker, and the underlying documents. This format includes a general judgement of how far the three ES criteria have been applied. It shows that the criteria can be applied to many different decision-making processes, ranging from the supranational to the local scale, and to different parts of those processes. The authors conclude that these criteria could be used to assess the extent to which ES approaches have been and should be applied, to understand the benefits and challenges of applying the approaches, and to determine whether using them makes a difference in the decision-making process, the decisions, or the outcomes of those decisions. Results from such studies could inform future use and development of ES approaches, draw attention to the approaches’ greatest benefits and challenges, and inform integration of ES approaches into policies.
Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions