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Article

Leon C. Braat

The concept of ecosystem services considers the usefulness of nature for human society. The economic importance of nature was described and analyzed in the 18th century, but the term ecosystem services was introduced only in 1981. Since then it has spurred an increasing number of academic publications, international research projects, and policy studies. Now a subject of intense debate in the global scientific community, from the natural to social science domains, it is also used, developed, and customized in policy arenas and considered, if in a still somewhat skeptical and apprehensive way, in the “practice” domain—by nature management agencies, farmers, foresters, and corporate business. This process of bridging evident gaps between ecology and economics, and between nature conservation and economic development, has also been felt in the political arena, including in the United Nations and the European Union (which have placed it at the center of their nature conservation and sustainable use strategies). The concept involves the utilitarian framing of those functions of nature that are used by humans and considered beneficial to society as economic and social services. In this light, for example, the disappearance of biodiversity directly affects ecosystem functions that underpin critical services for human well-being. More generally, the concept can be defined in this manner: Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems, in interaction with contributions from human society, to human well-being. The concept underpins four major discussions: (1) Academic: the ecological versus the economic dimensions of the goods and services that flow from ecosystems to the human economy; the challenge of integrating concepts and models across this paradigmatic divide; (2) Social: the risks versus benefits of bringing the utilitarian argument into political debates about nature conservation (Are ecosystem services good or bad for biodiversity and vice versa?); (3) Policy and planning: how to value the benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services (Will this improve decision-making on topics ranging from poverty alleviation via subsidies to farmers to planning of grey with green infrastructure to combining economic growth with nature conservation?); and (4) Practice: Can revenue come from smart management and sustainable use of ecosystems? Are there markets to be discovered and can businesses be created? How do taxes figure in an ecosystem-based economy? The outcomes of these discussions will both help to shape policy and planning of economies at global, national, and regional scales and contribute to the long-term survival and well-being of humanity.

Article

Rama Mohana R Turaga and Anish Sugathan

Pollution is one of the greatest causes of premature deaths and morbidity in the world, and this burden of pollution is disproportionately borne by the lower and middle income countries such as India—home to more than one-sixth of humanity. In India, due to the compound effect of its large population and high levels of environmental pollution, the human cost of pollution is among the highest in the world. The environmental degradation is partly a consequence of the development model pursued after independence in 1947 based on large-scale industrialization and exploitative resource utilization, with scant consideration for sustainability. Moreover, it is also due to the failure of the environmental administration, governance, and regulatory infrastructure to keep pace with the magnitude and pace of economic growth in India since economic liberalization in 1991. Ironically, India was also one of the early pioneers of integrating environmental considerations into its legislative and policy-making process beginning in the early 1970s. The federal and state environmental regulation and policy framing institutions set up during this era, along with environmental legislation such as the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, are comparable in design, stringency, and comprehensiveness to other contemporary command-and-control environmental regulatory regimes in many industrially developed economies. However, the widening gap between de jure expectations of environmental compliance and the de facto state of affairs has been a great concern for environmental governance in the country. The ongoing debates discuss several mechanisms to address the regulatory failures. The first is a greater emphasis on strengthening institutions and mechanisms that foster transparency and public disclosure by pollution sources with the intent to increase access to and credibility of information on pollution. Proponents argue this will help mobilize groups such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the general public to pressure the industry and government to improve regulatory enforcement. Second, there have been calls for wider adoption of market-based instruments that are more efficient than the traditional command-and-control approaches on which India relies. Again, information is a prerequisite for the functioning of such market-based regulatory mechanisms. Third, the legal infrastructure to facilitate expedited hearing of environmental litigation is being created. With the establishment of the National Green Tribunal in 2010, India is one of only three other countries in the world to have an exclusive judicial body to hear environmental cases. This is potentially a significant step in providing greater access to environmental justice. An emerging view, however, argues that the prevailing economic development model is incompatible with ensuring sustainable development and requires a radical rethink.

Article

Deforestation causes up to 10% of global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation and enhancing forest carbon stocks can contribute to controlling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limit global warming and climate change. However, global warming cannot be limited without decreasing the use of fossil fuel or emission-intensive energy sources. The forestry sector could contribute 7%–25% of global emissions reduction by 2020. Apart from emissions reduction and sink (mitigation), forests also provide cobenefits such as ecosystem services (providing food, timber, and medicinal herbs); biodiversity conservation; poverty reduction; and water quality, soil protection, and climate regulation. In 2005, the UNFCCC introduced a cost-effective mitigation strategy to reduce emissions from deforestation (RED) in developing countries. The UN’s initiative to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) aims to transform forest management in developing countries, where the majority of tropical forests are located, using finances from developed countries. REDD+ seeks to reward actors for maintaining or restoring forests, acting as an economic instrument by putting a monetary value on every tonne of CO2 that is prevented from entering the atmosphere. Implementation of REDD+ requires economic and policy instruments that can help to control GHG emissions by enhancing carbon sinks, reducing deforestation and forest degradation, and managing sustainable forests. Payment for environmental services offers opportunities for either cofinancing or economic valuation in regard to REDD+ implementation. The challenge is to identify the most appropriate and cost-effective instrument. REDD+ fulfills the current needs for economic instruments and incentives that can be implemented with existing land use and forestry policies to control global GHG emissions. However, REDD+ requires forest governance, law enforcement, clarification of land and resource rights, and forest monitoring to work in the long term. REDD+ payments can be made for results-based actions, and the UNFCCC has identified potential ways to pay for them, but challenges remain, such as clarifying financing or funding sources, distribution of funding and sharing of benefits or incentives, carbon rights, and so on. Different aspects pf the implementation, effectiveness, and scale of REDD+ and their interactions with economic, social, and environmental benefits are important for successful REDD+ implementation.