Assessing critical benefits of natural ecosystems to human well-being is now simpler

Ally Jamah and Benson Kibiti

August, 2018—Accurately measuring and valuing the critical benefits that protected areas and key biodiversity sites render to human well-being is now considerably simpler—and so is making the case for their enhanced protection.

Harenna forest in Ethiopia. Photo by Robin Moore/Conservation International

Harenna forest in Ethiopia. Photo by Robin Moore/Conservation International

This is thanks to a new system of ‘decision trees’ that cuts down on the time and complexity of selecting the most appropriate tool from the available tools for evaluating Ecosystem Services’—or the benefits provided by natural ecosystems and biodiversity sites to humans.

These benefits may include provision of water, air and water filtration, flood protection, carbon storage, pollination of crops, ecotourism, recreation, income opportunities and habitats for wildlife among many others.

Such benefits may often be downplayed or ignored by governments, private sector and communities when evaluating trade-offs between nature protection and competing national development projects. 

This new system of 'decision trees' is contained in a guidance report prepared by international experts in the field, including from  Conservation International, which is also the secretariat to the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, an African-led, 13-nation. initiative that seeks to enhance valuation of natural resources and their benefits to humans and their incorporation into national development plans and projects.

The report, “Tools for measuring, modelling, and valuing ecosystem services: Guidance for Key Biodiversity Areas, natural World Heritage sites, and protected areas,” has been issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN-WCPA).

 “Many protected and biodiversity site managers and researchers want to understand how their sites are benefiting people, but are overwhelmed by the number of tools for ecosystem services that are available,” says lead author Rachel Neugarten of Conservation International.  “This guide will help them pick a tool based on the goals of their assessment, the kinds of information they need, and the time and resources they have.”

This development is good news to the GDSA member countries which have committed to mainstreaming the value and benefits of ‘natural capital’ in their development plans.

Identifying and quantifying the benefits provided by these key protected and biodiversity sites can help decision-makers and protected area managers justify the importance of conserving them. It can also help attract new sources of funding and manage the sites more effectively.

Protected areas, including natural World Heritage sites, as well as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), play a crucial role in securing the long-term delivery of ecosystem services, as nature is becoming increasingly degraded or lost elsewhere, including in surrounding areas. 

Safeguarding these key areas is therefore important not only for biodiversity conservation but also for sustaining human well-being.