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Safeguarding local equity as global values of ecosystem services rise

Internationally, many advocates and governments have proposed the establishment of systems of Payments for Environmental Services (PES), notably a system for compensating people for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). The assumption has been made that if those ‘free’ services that the environment provides (e.g., timber, a clean and steady water supply, sequestering carbon) are properly valued and paid for, the environment will be protected and poverty will be reduced. The fact that this assumption has not been validated and the connections between ecosystem services and poverty are poorly understood is a serious problem, especially given that billions of dollars per year are predicted to flow to developing countries once REDD programmes are fully implemented. Experience from other sectors raises concerns that these schemes may not benefit poor people uniformly and may even make the poorest worse off (e.g. by excluding them from land or traditional land uses) or undermine existing benefit-sharing systems. In other words, what will happen to social equity in affected local communities?

This project brings together an interdisciplinary team of collaborators from universities (Southampton, Oxford, Rutgers and the Australian National University), a policy think-tank (Overseas Development Institute), regional research and training centres (RECOFTC and CATIE) and a regional NGO (Ugandan Coalition for Sustainable Development) to develop a conceptual framework that analyses the links between ecosystem services and sustainable poverty reduction, examining in particular how benefits derived from ecosystem services are distributed among different stakeholders, the factors underlying these processes and their potential impacts. This framework contributes to the critical challenge of the equitable management of ecosystems in a manner that benefits poor people. In particular, it helps decision-makers in REDD and PES programmes minimise negative impacts on equity and maximise positive impacts on poverty alleviation.

In order to accomplish this the project is (i) developing a rigorous definition of the different dimensions and types of equity in the context of ecosystem services; (ii) developing a conceptual framework that describes how changes in the global value of ecosystem services lead to changes in equity at the local level, and the key factors that influence these outcomes, drawing on evidence from 6-8 specially commissioned background papers analysing existing knowledge on the equity impacts of high or rising value of ecosystem services (e.g., in forestry, mining and water); (iii) testing the framework in three or four case studies (at least one each in Asia, Africa and Latin America); and (iv) reviewing the conceptual framework in the light of the case study findings.

Kristy Graham