Ecosystem services are benefits, people acquire from ecosystems. An ecosystem is a complex and dynamic structure consisting of plant, animal and microorganism communities and the nonliving environment around it which interacts as a functional unit. Today, many ecosystems are already influenced or even damaged by human interference and unsustainable land use.
Ecosystem services can be split into the following four service categories:
- Provisioning services
- Regulating Services
- Supporting Services and
- Cultural services
As a provisioning service, water provisioning is connected to the availability of water including precipitation, flowing of rivers and groundwater as well as evaporation.
Regulating services include interception, infiltration and storage capacity in the ground and are important for balancing in times of affluence and deficit of water.
Physical and biological cleaning mechanisms can be seen as supporting services offered by the environment.
The cultural value of an ecosystem comprises mostly the ecosystem as a living space and recreational area, but also as a religious or spiritual inspiration.
Therefore, the quality as well as the available quantity of water is highly influenced by ecosystem services.
Climate change will mostly negatively influence water related ecosystem services. The amount of water will change due to altered precipitation patterns. The drying up of wetlands in times of droughts reduces the storage and infiltration capacity and can cause flooding in rainstorm events. The water quality will be influenced by the temperature increase. Higher mean temperatures cause more evaporation, leading to accumulation of nutrients and harmful substances, and also favour microorganism growth. This can lead to eutrophication, a biological stage where additional plant growth causes oxygen depletion and makes the water inappropriate for human consumption. More intense precipitation rates add to the input of nutrients by higher leachate. This rise of rainfall also increases erosion, which causes loss of fertile soil and silting up of estuaries and reservoirs.
The ecosystem services approach pays regard to the potential of using ecosystem services for better adaptation to climate change threats. The sustainable use and conservation of ecosystems enhances the adaptation ability of societies. Advantages of the approach are lower costs, little technological input and required capacities, as well as the use of local knowledge and materials. Furthermore the protection of ecosystems, like e.g. wetlands, is a positive side effect.
Today the potential of the ecosystem services approach as a measure against climate change is not exhausted. This is caused by a lack of cross-sectoral integration on planning issues, missing knowledge and preference of prestige infrastructure projects.
Incentives offered to farmer’s and landowners in exchange for providing and preventing ecological services are also known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), they’re a means of creating a market in environmental services. PES is based on the idea that businesses should pay for the benefits that the ecosystem provides them. This environmental policy innovation is currently attracting much attention in both developed and developing countries. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), ecosystem services associated with watersheds have been degraded globally over the past 50 years. In the context of PES, payments for watershed functions seek to link upstream land use and management with downstream water use and management to realize benefits for both upstream and downstream participants. These benefits include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as regulation of floods, droughts and land degradation, supporting services such as soil formation and nutrient cycling. There is growing interest in payments for watershed services (PWS) as a tool for Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in developing countries. It could complement the regulatory approach to influence land-management practices through market-based mechanisms.
Preservation of ecosystem functions
(laws and regulations)
Better waste water treatment
GIZ (2012): Climate Change Adaptation in the Water Sector. Factsheet.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005): Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis.
Island Press, Washington, DC. (http://www.maweb.org/documents/document.356.aspx.pdf [accessed 16 April 2013]
TEEB (2010): The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: A synthesis of the approach, conclusions and recommendations of TEEB. and Reports/Reports/Synthesis report/TEEB Synthesis Report 2010.pdf http://www.teebweb.org/wp-content/uploads/Study and Reports/Reports/Synthesis report/TEEB Synthesis Report 2010.pdf [accessed 16 April 2013]