UN considers payments for forest ecosystem services

This will help create sustainable livelihoods and resilient ecosystems, says a report by three UN agencies

 
By Snigdha Das
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

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What is the value of sitting under a forest tree’s shade, and enjoying lunch? How do we place a value on forests for protecting us from floods, landslides, avalanches; and offering clean water, air and climate? Humanity has not been able to capture the values of the priceless ecosystem services offered by forests.

For the first time the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) have made an attempt in this regard. They have jointly prepared a report, The Value of Forests–Payments for Ecosystem Services in a Green Economy, which highlights the important roles forests can play in a green economy. The report recommends compensating forest owners for continuing to provide the ecosystem services by not damaging the forests. This should be done through a mechanism called, payment for ecosystem services (PES), the report says. 

The report analyses 14 case studies, public and private as well as those carried as partnerships, to identify the implications of PES, their potential use in a green economy and alternative options when PES may not be appropriate. It also considers trading schemes and offsets as well as PES at the regional level and examines valuation methods for ecosystem services. There is potential to scale up existing PES from local initiatives to national level and to implement the mechanism in more countries, it says. At present, the recommendations are for UNECE countries, which include countries in Europe, Canada, the Central Asian republics, Israel and the United States of America.

PES way towards green economy

PES is based on a “user pays” rather than a “polluter pays” principle. Under the “user pays” arrangement, the beneficiary of an environmental service provides payment, whether this is directly for an environmental service such as water purification, maintaining biodiversity, or storage of carbon. Under the “polluter pays” principle, the parties responsible for damaging the environment are taxed or fined for doing so.

Implementation of PES will thus improve resource management, create income and sustainable livelihoods for rural (in some cases, urban) populations, says the report. This will promote rural development and ensure that populations maintain their income and livelihoods in rural areas. Scaling up PES schemes would also result in improved, resilient ecosystems. Such schemes may become increasingly important as the pressure on forests increases due to climate change impacts such as pests, diseases and natural disasters.
 
For successful PES, the report cites the importance of an appropriate legislative and institutional enabling environment, secure tenure, stakeholder engagement, clear frameworks for monitoring, enforcement and compliance, and methods to ensure permanence and avoid unintended negative impacts. The report suggests that a code of conduct should be drafted that identifies when PES should be used, how valuation should be set, who should be engaged and through what methods, and guidelines on monitoring and compliance.

The report suggests that a code of conduct should be drafted that identifies when PES should be used, how valuation should be set, who should be engaged and through what methods, and guidelines on monitoring and compliance.

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