Gathering information for the future national assessment of ecosystem services

By Catherine Destrempes

How are you benefiting from nature now and how will you in the future? That is an interesting question since nature is an integrated part of our life. Nature’s benefit can be from the happiness we feel picking a ripened tomato from our garden, to the skip of a heartbeat when we see a beautiful landscape. We are enjoying nature’s benefits in diverse ways both directly, through the water, the food, and material we receive and indirectly through the well-being, cultural and spiritual link we share with nature. These benefits that nature provides us are referred to as ecosystem services (ES). However, our current consumption and exploitation of natural resources has led to the erosion of these services, as well as the degradation of the natural capital that provides those benefits. This degradation aggravates the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss. Therefore, over the last twenty years, a lot of work has been done on ES, especially to learn how to measure these services and assess how to adopt more sustainable ways to benefit both nature and people, now and in the future.

Considering the importance of ES, Canada, like many other countries around the globe, hopes to assess and measure its natural capital and ES in the future, to determine where they presently stand and where they can start to improve. Nevertheless, the concept of ES can be looked at from many different angles, making it hard for people to communicate and work together without a common language and structure. Which is why several frameworks (structural frame for concepts and ideas) have been created over the years to assess and measure ES. In a way, frameworks can be compared to lighthouses in the middle of the sea. They illuminate certain parts of the ocean for us to see clearly and leave the others in the dark. Each framework, however, is different and better at highlighting some part of the ES concept. Therefore, one issue countries like Canada face in their effort to develop a framework to assess ES nationally is in the selection of the right framework for their need. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) retained two frameworks to tackle these types of issues – the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). Unfortunately, a clear comparison of how each of them addresses the issues facing ES is not currently available.

Through the LEADS program, I had the chance to complete a 6-week internship with ECCC in the summer of 2021, to contribute to this future Canadian ES framework development. Specifically, I was asked to produce a report that would introduce and compare both the IPBES and SEEA frameworks through general criteria and specific questions, to enable the ECCC’s decision. To introduce both of the frameworks, I explored the terminology, history, and classification of each; and selected a series of general criteria to run a case study analysis, comparing their assessment through the measurement of three services – climate regulation, hazard regulation, and prest regulation.

Overall, this internship allowed me to observe how a simple concept, namely ES, could be viewed and evaluated from radically different angles. The SEEA framework was revealed to be one mainly valuing ES through physical and monetary terms, whereas the IPBES framework focuses on how nature contributes to people. While the former showed rigorous method and replicable power through economical means, the latter was more integrative through the use of various values and inclusion of diverse knowledge systems (western science, indigenous and local knowledge). On the whole, both frameworks had their similarity and difference, strengths and weaknesses.

                                                                                                                     Figure 1: Representation of the classification use by some frameworks to structure ecosystem services. (IUCN, 2017)

In conclusion, the review I performed in their internship allows me to contribute to the knowledge we have of these frameworks and broaden my perspective on the importance of frameworks for decision-making. Furthermore, it really chances how I view concept building in general, since it highlighted the variety of angles that can be looked at and diversity of ways they can be assessed. Overall, I believe a national assessment of ES in Canada would be a powerful tool to determine how Canadians are benefitting from nature presently and how they could benefit in the future as well as to highlight what should be done to ensure that they can.

Keywords: Ecosystem services, framework, Environment and Climate Change Canada

                                                             
Catherine Destrempes is a Masters Student at McGill University, where she works under the supervision of Dr. Elena Bennett in her ResNet project. She is interested in ecosystem services, particularly in understanding how humans and nature can co-exist and thrive through restoration and enhancement of ecosystem services.

IUCN. (2017, March 10). A Step to Sustainability; MAES Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystem.
https://www.iucn.org/new/commission-environmental-economics-and-social-policy/201702/step-sustainability-maes-mapping-and-assessment-ecosystem-services-european-cities-and-italy