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Ecosystem services: The benefits people obtain from the planet's natural resources

Ecosystem services - the link between human development and nature

Human development, defined broadly to encompass social, economic, and environmental aspects of growth and welfare, is inexorably connected to nature. Yet, severe environmental degradation (due to, among other factors, an increasing human population and its subsequent excessive per-capita impact on Earth’s life-support systems) can result in the potentially irreversible loss of ecosystem functions and services, as well as have the ultimate effect of reducing human well-being. Succeeding in managing the planet’s natural resources in such a way that trade-offs between the increasing needs of the global population and the maintenance of ecosystem health are avoided or minimized is, therefore, crucial.

The challenge? Although there is universal consensus that ecosystems and ecosystem services (both the perceived and unobserved benefits people obtain from nature) are important, determining their value to society is still subject to considerable debate. In fact, the general population’s information when it comes to this topic continues to be selectively limited; only ecosystem services with a clear monetary value are well-known, and even then, not many people know enough about trade-offs to assign an adequate economic value to them.  


Establishing the link: Ecosystem services and the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems

The  IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLE); the standard framework for ecosystem risk assessment around the world, is a valuable tool capable of helping to expand the global community's knowledge about ecosystems and the intrinsic value of the many services they provide (provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services and supporting services).

Systemic application of the IUCN RLE criteria at local, national, regional and global scales provides information on the status of ecosystems that can be used in both global biodiversity monitoring and local management, but also provides information about the change in the ecosystems that underpin the provision of ecosystem services. For example, the RLE ecosystem risk assessment of the mountain ash forest in Australia as Critically Endangered (Burns et al. 2015), triggered the establishment of an industry task force to provide recommendations for timber production, job security, and biodiversity objectives.

By informing authorities and other decision-makers about conservation priorities, RLE can:

  • Help to establish a positive link between the sustainable management of ecosystems and the betterment of livelihoods.
  • Effectively work towards achieving international environmental objectives (Aichi Target 14).
  • Be used as a baseline to identify the conservation status of the ecosystems before implementing commercial and non-commercially related environmental interventions.
  • Monitor and measure the positive and negative impacts of said interventions.
  • Inform global biodiversity reporting for ecosystem service-related initiatives.

Expanding the global coverage of RLE assessments, establishing both stronger alliances and policies to manage threatened ecosystems, and increasing community knowledge about ecosystem services will be key to maximizing conservation efforts and safeguarding our planet's natural resources in the years to come.



Written by: Clara Gómez

Style and format: Lila García and Clara Gómez

Provita May 27, 2019


IUCN Red List of Ecosystems


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