Ecosystem services are “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005)). They can be divided into the following categories:
- Provisioning services (food, biomass, materials…)
- Regulation & Maintenance services (climate regulation, carbon sequestration and storage, erosion control, water quality, flood prevention, gene pool protection, biodiversity conservation…)
- Cultural services (recreation, spiritual value, aesthetic value, heritage…)
The MA states that in the last 50 years humankind has been changing ecosystems with a force and at a speed never seen before; the main drivers have been the increasing need for natural re sources. This impact is causing irreversible biodiversity losses all over the planet; 60% of Earth’s ecosystem services have been compromised. Nevertheless since ecosystem services and goods have always been available and for-free non-market goods, their real value is not taken into account by society.
Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) were created in order to acknowledge the value, also monetary, of the products and services provided by ecosystems, and to reward managing and conservation activities of these benefitting the whole community.
PES are ground-breaking in having society acknowledge for the first time the ecosystems’ role and therefore the importance of maintaining their functions also through the use of market-based instruments in order to secure the conservation of natural capital, human wellbeing and wealth.
PES are a new financing tool aiming at protecting ecosystem services, offering a monetary incentive to land managers choosing sustainable land uses or managing practices promoting the conservation of ecosystem services. Unlike traditional financing tools, PES are directly and voluntarily financed by the beneficiaries of those ecosystem services which the PES aims at maintaining.
A Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme is a voluntary transaction where a well-defined ecosystem service (ES) or a land use likely to secure its provision is bought by at least one ES buyer from at least one provider effectively controlling the ES provision if, and only if, the ES provider secures service provision (conditionality).
One of the outputs of the LIFE GESTIRE project was a first assessment of the socio-economic value of Natura 2000 network in Lombardy. This was carried out through a monetary valuation of the ecosystem services provided by the sites, featuring for the first time ever in Italy a regional-scale approach aiming at the development of a environmental accounting system coherent with international standards. The assessment of market ES (provisioning of timber, non wood forest products, forage, carbon sequestration) highlighted how a significant share of the regional Natura 2000 network monetary value, ranging from 130 to 170 M €, is already marketed or marketable.
In the last decade interest for PES has grown quickly all around the world. In Lombardy LIFE+ Making Good Natura project for the first time experimented the implementation of new environmental governance tools for agro-forest eco system conservation, involving among others 12 Natura 2000 pilot sites. In December 2015 the project yielded its first PES in Lombardy, with the call for bids for Terz’Alpe farm issued by ERSAF. In this agreement, the farmer is going to pay an annual lease to ERSAF in order to benefit from the forage to feed livestock; on the other hand since raising livestock is going to help maintaining the grassland habitats, he is going to get a discount on the lease (the exact figure will be assessed by ERSAF by the end of the year following monitoring of the farmer’s activities). ERSAF will implement a similar PES scheme in all future lease contracts, effectively acknowledging how crucial it is to value Ecosystem Services through a wide-spread adoption of good practices which integrate them in ordinary managing activities.
In Gestire 2020 the definition of new governance schemes (action A2) will take into account the PES schemes.