Ecosystem Services

The earth’s ecosystems provide various services which are crucial for human well-being and economic development (e.g., supporting soil formation; providing food, freshwater or fuel; regulating floods, climate or diseases; serving educational, aesthetic or spiritual purposes). As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has shown, ecosystems have seriously been changed in the past century. Although these changes have led to net gains in human well-being and economic development in some parts of the world, the gains have far too often gone hand in hand with deterioration of the ecosystem services.

Stopping the further degradation of these important services will demand policy changes. The IUCN Environmental Law Programme (ELP), particularly through its Environmental Law Centre and the Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) network, is aiming to support the implementation of the required changes by recommending appropriate legal frameworks.

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Payment for Ecosystem Services

A rather new conservation approach is the use of economic mechanisms and incentives. In particular the tool of payments for environmental services (PES) is increasingly being considered a promising approach. Under a PES scheme, those people whose lands provide environmental services may accept voluntary limitation or diversification of their activities in return for an economic benefit that is provided by the beneficiaries of the services. In this way, both “sellers” and “buyers” of ecosystem services can profit while helping to protect ecosystems.

Analysis and engagement with partners working on ecosystem services transactions, policies and laws over the past 10 years have demonstrated a clear need to better understand the legal and institutional frameworks that have the potential to promote or hinder the development of PES schemes, as well as the complex legal considerations that affect ecosystem services projects.

A project with the aim of better understanding the legal and institutional frameworks of water and carbon related PES was implemented by the ELC and the Katoomba Group ( The following questionnaire offers guidance on the issues to be considered when conducting a PES country assessment.

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Two workshops were organized together with the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law: "Towards the legal recognition and governance of ecosystem services" in 2011 and "Environmental Law at a Crossroads" (on ecosystem services and equity) in 2012.