Beyond win-win: interrogating ecosystem services dynamics

While the ecosystem services framework offers the potential for developing approaches that simultaneously provide ecological stability and livelihood security, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world, there are often tradeoffs associated with the pursuit of multiple objectives, by multiple stakeholders, across multiple temporal and spatial scales.

Choices are ubiquitous in natural resource management decisions, but recent approaches often mistakenly assume that a focus on ecosystem services will always provide opportunities for win-win outcomes. While some areas of habitat or landscape hold multiple values (e.g. hill forests, providing biodiversity, carbon, water, forest products and tourism revenues), they may be unable to simultaneously provide all these services.

Tradeoffs may be of two types:

  1. Between different services, e.g. the choice between species diversity and carbon in a mountain forest;
  2. Among different users of services, e.g. remote beneficiaries of biodiversity values, local users of forest land, and different downstream users of water.

While there may be some circumstances in which synergies emerge between particular objectives, most strategies for ecosystem management are associated with opportunity costs, and stakeholders within the system are differentially exposed to these costs. Market-mechanisms (such as Payments for Ecosystem Services, PES) may allow for novel strategies to exploit potential synergies, but these are unlikely to eliminate the reality of tradeoffs that characterise many decision contexts.
 
This project will bring together knowledge about the extent of spatial and temporal overlap between ecosystem service flows from particular landscapes, as well as the ways in which different stakeholders benefit from these flows over space and time. Such a project requires inputs from multiple disciplines, cutting across the ecological and social sciences. Understanding ecosystem function and documenting ecosystem flows remains an important challenge, especially given unresolved scientific issues in certain areas (for instance, the forest-hydrology relationship is still not well understood in different parts of the world). On the social side, it is important not just to determine economic values of ecosystem service flows, but also to see how these are captured by specific groups in society, and what this means for issues such as poverty, equity and justice.

This project was funded by the CCI Collaborative Fund for Conservation.

Project Aims

This project aims to review circumstances that resulted in synergies or ‘win wins’ across different ecosystem services, and those where there are trade- offs associated with the pursuit of multiple objectives.

Key Activities

In order to generate a sophisticated understanding of ecosystem service tradeoffs and synergies, this project will engage with the highest quality inter-disciplinary work, and synthesise insights from across this range of perspectives. It will do this through a two-stage process:

  1. A systematic review of existing information, using published sources and the internet
  2. A high-level meeting (held in early April 2011), at which experts from academia, conservation organisations, research organisations, governments and inter-governmental bodies were brought together to capture the range of work that is being undertaken in the field, to share knowledge and to develop a synthesis document for wider dissemination.

These outputs will be made available on the CCI website when they are published.

CCI partners Involved

The Department of Geography's research clusters focus on society and environment, development and political ecology, culture and demography, environmental processes, landscape modelling and climate...
The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the specialist biodiversity assessment arm of the United Nations Environment Programme, the world’s foremost intergovernmental...
BirdLife International is a strategic global partnership of conservation organisations in over 100 countries, working to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, and to promote...
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...

Related Resources

Resource Title Description Type
Creating win-wins from trade-offs? Ecosystem services for human well-being: a meta-analysis of ecosystem service trade-offs and synergies in the real world Ecosystem services can provide a wide range of benefits for human well-being, including provisioning, regulating and cultural services and benefitting both private and public interests in different... Journal articles
Workshop report: Ecosystem services - past and future projects (February 2012) The workshop was facilitated by Ruth Swetnam and divided into morning and afternoon sessions. The focus of the morning was the presentation of results from the CCI projects related to ecosystem... Workshop proceedings