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Collaborative venture organised by the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Research Committee, the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, and the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law

Ecosystem Services, Economic Valuation, and Environmental Equity: Complementary or Contradictory?

June 30, 2012
Baltimore, Maryland

An increasing number of scholars and governments have begun to embrace ecosystem services as a means to protect the environment and provide financial rewards to those involved in habitat protection and restoration. The term "ecosystem services" refers to the important functions ecosystems provide, such as water filtration and purification, soil protection and creation, and food production. For most of the 20th Century, people traditionally viewed environmental protection as economically disadvantageous when compared to natural resource exploitation and other habitat uses that convert natural capital to economic goods. The recognition and economic valuation of ecosystem services may provide a means by which habitat protection and restoration can have direct economic value that exceeds other potential habitat uses. An ecosystem services framework may also provide new economic and employment opportunities for people who live in habitats that serve important functions. For these reasons, and many others, many environmental advocates have promoted the development of ecosystem services as a new model of conservation.

Despite the increased interest in ecosystem services as a new model of environmental protection, many commentators are wary about its implications for fairness and environmental governance. Some environmental advocates fear that an ecosystem services approach will promote protection only of a limited number of habitats and leave less productive (and thereby less valuable) habitats vulnerable to exploitation. For example, while wetland habitats typically provide significant ecosystem services through water filtration and purification, deserts may provide far fewer ecosystem services capable of monetization. Is this fair, and if not, should the law develop a different regime to protect the value of fragile, but less productive, habitats (e.g. based on the values/beliefs of a given population)? How does an ecosystem services model fit within current development patterns in which most people live in urban areas? Will urban dwellers benefit from an ecosystem services approach to environmental protection? Will rural dwellers?

Some scholars worry that an ecosystem services model, in which land owners are paid for habitat protection, could promote new property regimes that may threaten indigenous peoples and their traditional land uses. For instance, paying property owners for the carbon credits produced through carbon sequestration in forests and soils may promote new questions about who owns the right to the carbon in the first place. Should carbon be treated as a separate estate, similar to the mineral estate recognized in various countries? If so, who owns the carbon estate and what are the implications for indigenous property rights and uses on traditional lands?

Finally, some scholars worry that the ecosystem services approach to environmental protection will devalue the less tangible and quantifiable benefits of ecosystems. For many communities, environmental values are inseparable from cultural, religious, and spiritual beliefs. If ecosystems become valued based on the services they provide, how can the valuation account for more aesthetic benefits? What risks does an ecosystem services approach present for environmental and human rights protection?

This workshop will focus on the intersection of ecosystem services, economic valuation of environmental goods, and the equitable concerns involved in pricing environmental benefits. The presentations will consider optimal approaches for protecting ecosystem services, the benefits and potential risks of an ecosystem services approach to environmental protection, and the equitable implications of ecosystem services protection and valuation.

This workshop will involve presentations of completed, but unpublished, scholarly works. Therefore, participants in the workshop are expected to submit their completed drafts (in final or near-final form) one month before the workshop. This workshop is not a works-in-progress workshop.

Organising Committee:

You are invited to submit an abstract of not more than 500 words focusing on

· The benefits and risks of an ecosystem services approach to environmental protection;
· How policy makers can design ecosystem services programs to achieve the greatest environmental and economic benefits; and
· The implications of ecosystem services on environmental and economic equity.

Abstracts must be submitted via email to
Louisa Denier, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Melissa Powers, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Abstracts are due by February 15, 2012

You will be notified whether your abstract has been accepted for the workshop by February 29, 2012.

Full papers are due no later than May 31, 2012.