The long weekend recently ended, and in a week the vacations begin. We are all eager to spend these warm days in nature. Social media is filled with photos of kayaking, mountain expeditions or beachcombing. We take advantage of the surrounding environment and its rich offerings. In essence, we got it all for free. Only is it for sure?

What are ecosystem services?

The environment provides us with all sorts of goods – clean air, drinking water, food, tourist values and many others. All of the benefits that nature gives us are the so-called “benefits of nature. ecosystem services.

It can be defined as “the set of creations and functions of the ecosystem (landscape) that are useful to human society.” Such a definition shows that it is we humans who benefit from the effects of the environment. Both are the activities of organisms and inanimate nature. We get them, so to speak, gratis from our environment. We are accustomed to having free access to, for example, the work of bees pollinating our crops or the power of the wind pushing windmills.

The concept of ecosystem services is closely linked to sustainable development and the answer to the question of how much we can draw from the environment without limiting the opportunities of future generations. The importance of ecosystem services as a concept has been taking shape since the ’70s. and later developed in the 1990s. They are comprehensively described in a 1997 paper. prepared under the editorship of Robert Constanza[1] and Gretchen C. Daily[2].

How do we divide ecosystem services?

The environment performs many functions in our lives and thus provides various types of services. Ecosystem services are assumed to play a role:

  • provisioning services,
  • regulatory (regulating services),
  • supporting services,
  • cultural (cultural services).

The procurement function refers to the supply of raw materials. It includes, but is not limited to, food production, hunting, access to water, timber, gene pools or medical resources (e.g., herbs). This type of ecosystem service is the most well-known because it is associated with the extraction of various types of goods from the environment.

Regulatory services are related to the regulation of air composition, natural prevention of extreme phenomena, circulation of matter in the soil, absorption of pollutants, population regulation and pollination capacity. The supporting function of ecosystem services relates to elemental and water cycles, habitat function and primary production. Both of these types of ecosystem services form the structure of the environment and ensure its stability.

In contrast, the role of cultural services is the least material. This is because it involves aesthetic, recreational, spiritual, as well as educational functions. It is in this type of ecosystem service that we find the scenic qualities of an area or its tourism potential.

Are ecosystem services free?

We have become accustomed to using the environment as a matter of course in the world around us. So on a day-to-day basis, we don’t think about how much it costs us to access ecosystem services. Neither the bees nor the soil bill us for their work, so it would seem that ecosystem services are free. It’s not like that. We pay for some of them. The obvious thing is that we have water and sewage bills. A form of payment for cultural services is also the recently quite controversial climate fee. We pay it as a price for access to the health-promoting qualities of the microclimate. Tickets to caves or national parks also play a similar role.

Harvested wood or berries and mushrooms from the forest come at a price. However, it should be emphasized that the costs of the previously described examples of services are not billed by the environment, and the funds thus obtained most often do not go to the environment in restorative form.

It is true, however, that we use many ecosystem services for free. Access to rivers and lakes is free, as is the productive function of the soil or the work of pollinators. Increasingly, these services are viewed through the prism of their value. Making sure they can be available for future generations is part of sustainable development. Few things motivate people to save as much as economic factors.

How to value ecosystem services?

Valuing ecosystem services is not easy. Their intangible nature makes this task more difficult. Economics as a science, however, has dealt with this problem by creating estimation tools.

We can divide ecosystem service valuation methods into direct and indirect. The first group involves the assumption that something is worth as much as we are willing to pay for it. Thus, through various methods, our willingness to incur costs in order to maintain/acquire access to a given ecosystem service is examined. The approach is collectively called WTP (willingness to pay). By answering the question of how much we are willing to pay for, say, clean air or access to a river, we determine the value of a given ecosystem service.

Indirect valuation methods, on the other hand, involve trying to link ecosystem services to activities of known value. For example, the work done by pollinators could be done (and in some areas of the world already is being done) by humans. The labor costs of hand-pollinating plants can therefore be compared with the service they provide, among others. bees. We can approach, for example, the wetlands mitigation service in a similar way. Wetlands – as carbon stores – allow, in a nutshell, to avoid carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. This has real implications for the rate of climate change. The valuation of such a service can be based on linking the volume of avoided emissions to ETSCO2 prices. A similar approach can be applied to forests.

It should be emphasized that valuing ecosystem services is not an easy and strictly measurable matter. It requires making certain assumptions and knowing the environmental and economic linkages. The main difficulty is linking the benefits of ecosystem services to economic benefits. The valuation of ecosystem services is therefore only an estimate of how much the environment gives us.

How much do ecosystem services give us?

The answer to this question is very difficult because of the diverse functions of the environment in our lives, as well as the difficulties of valuation described earlier. Robert Constanza in 1997. estimated the value of ecosystem services in 17 selected groups at between $16 and $54 trillion a year. At the time, world GDP (according to the World Bank) was $31 trillion. As you can see, the values were estimated with a lot of uncertainty, but even the lower amount is still very impressive. A 2011 update of this study. conducted again by Robert Constanza, indicated that the amount of ecosystem services is valued at $125 trillion a year. This is an increase of more than three times. The world’s GDP at the time rose to $73 trillion. The environment gives us a lot.

Why price ecosystem services?

Knowing how much we get from the environment, but also how our actions reduce the amount of ecosystem services we provide, is a key element in finding a balance within sustainability. Only monetary valuation of the services provided by the animate and inanimate world allows comparison with data on human economic activity. According to Constanza, between 1997 and 2011, human activity caused the loss of between $4.3 trillion and as much as $20 trillion in environmental services. Without such valuations and analysis, we might still think that nature gives us everything for free. The next time you go on vacation or observe insects, think about how valuable this asset is and how much value it brings to our world. Also financially.

In the article, I used, among others. From the works:

[1] Costanza R., D’Arge R., De Groot R., Farberk S., Grasso M., Bruce Hannon B., Limburg K, Naeem S., O’Neill R.V., Paruelo J., Raskin R.G., Suttonkk P., van den Belt M. 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature, 387, 253-260.
[2] GC Daily 1997. Introduction: what are ecosystem services, Nature’s services: Societal dependence on natural …, 1997

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