Ecosystem services are subjected to trade-offs: securing one service (for example food or timber production) usually affects other services to human society, sometimes at very different scales (for example climate regulation). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has convincingly shown that non-marketed ecosystem services (such as water purification) are regularly lost or degraded as a result of actions taken to increase the supply of marketed ecosystem services (such as food and timber production).
In the EU, the resource efficiency initiative addresses a range of policies (energy, transport, industry, agriculture, fisheries) and issues (climate change, the loss of biodiversity and regional development), with the objective of making the best use of synergies and addressing trade-offs between different priorities, in order to allow for a sustainable development. A number of measures are already initiated, including: reforming the CAP, reforming the CFP, and implementing the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020.
This is where ecosystem assessment can help us make better decisions. Exploiting our natural resources more efficiently (Ecosystems and ecosystem services) requires insight in trade-offs between ecosystem services, and coordinated action across sectors and scales (Scenarios). Sometimes, economic valuation of ecosystem services is possible (Ecosystem services and human well-being), allowing true cost-benefit analysis. Where ecosystem services can’t be valued monetarily, the cost-effectiveness of policy measures can still be assessed.
Those analyses will be essential if economic incentives are to be changed. Such changes may include, for instance, the removal of subsidies that result in ecosystem service degradation, and the development of payment schemes for ecosystem services that currently have no market value.
Special issue of Environmental Impact Assessment Review: ecosytem services in EIA and SIA