Ecosystem Services

Driving Harder & Deeper Into Sustainable Development !?!

2013-01-13:   The 13th … a lucky day !

As we drive harder and deeper (at least some of us anyway ?) towards a future of Sustainable Human & Social Developmentor are forcefully driven by the anthropogenic (man-made) pressures of Resource Shortages (e.g. water – food – energy) and Climate Change, in the case of millions of people living in poverty throughout the world … or are dragged screaming, which I fear will have to be the solution with the privileged classes in every society who are addicted to lavish and wasteful lifestyles and who show absolutely no interest in either Climate Change or Resource Shortages until they rear up and bite them in the ass (!!) … there is a desperate need for a more complex and precise language of Sustainability, which will give shape to the innovative trans-sectoral concepts and trans-disciplinary policy and decision-making support tools required for Tangible/’Real’ Sustainability & Climate Resilience Implementation.

At the time of writing, the Principal Challenge before us is …

Transforming Social Organization … the Ultimate Goal being to arrive quickly at a dynamic and harmonious balance between a Sustainable Human Environment and a flourishing, not just a surviving, Natural Environment … with the Overall Aim of achieving Social Wellbeing for All.


Climate Change did not directly cause Hurricane Sandy, a severe weather event which hit the Caribbean and the East Coast of the USA during October 2012 … but it was a significant contributing factor.  Scenes like those in the photograph below will be experienced far more frequently in the future.

This is not Manhattan, in New York City … so, is the development shown below to be removed altogether … or renewed with the necessary and very costly construction of a massive system of flood protection measures ?   Not an easy choice.  Which choice would be more sustainable ?

However … WHEN, not IF … Average Global Temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius, many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will suffer a similar fate … permanently …

North-Eastern USA After Hurricane Sandy (October 2012)

Colour photograph showing a flooded/inundated coastal community, in north-eastern USA, after Hurricane Sandy. Click to enlarge.


The Type of Lightweight Development in the foreground of the photograph below … damaged beyond repair or re-construction during Hurricane Sandy, is not Resilient … which is a different concept to Robust, or Robustness.

Notice the building in the background, on the left, which appears to have survived fully intact … why ??

North-Eastern USA After Hurricane Sandy (October 2012)

Colour photograph showing the destruction of beachfront buildings, in north-eastern USA, caused by Hurricane Sandy. It will be ridiculous, and the height of stupidity, to repair/replace buildings and infrastructure using similar methods of construction. Will Insurance Companies and Federal/State Authorities understand this ?? Click to enlarge.


In complete contrast … the Type of Development, below, is more Resilient.  Furthermore, however, as a normal human reaction to decades of aggressive, but ultimately unsuccessful, political bullying and economic assault by the USA, the Social Fabric of Cuba is very strong … making this a Resilient Human Environment

Santiago de Cuba After Hurricane Sandy (October 2012)

Colour photograph showing the damage caused to a local community in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, by Hurricane Sandy. Click to enlarge.


So … what is a Resilient Human Environment … particularly in the context of Sustainable Climate Change Adaptation ?

What do we mean by Transforming Social Organization ??

And … as we drive forward, harder and deeper … why is it critical that we practice a balanced, synchronous approach … across ALL Aspects of Sustainability … to Tangible Sustainability & Climate Resilience Implementation ???

Let us confront some more interesting new words and thought-provoking concepts …


European Sustainable Development Network

2012 – ESDN Quarterly Report Number 26 – Umberto Pisano, Author

ESDN Quarterly Report Number 26, 2012

ESDN – ‘Resilience and Sustainable Development: Theory of Resilience, Systems Thinking & Adaptive Governance’

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (2.17 Mb)


Abridged Executive Summary

The term resilience originated in the 1970’s in the field of ecology from the research of C.S.Holling, who defined resilience as ‘a measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables’.  In short, resilience is defined as ‘the ability of a system to absorb disturbances and still retain its basic function and structure’, and as ‘the capacity to change in order to maintain the same identity’.

Resilience can best be described by three crucial characteristics: (1) the amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain within the same state or domain of attraction; (2) the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization; and (3) the ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation.

In the need for persistence, we can find a first connection with sustainable development.  Sustainable development has the objective of creating and maintaining prosperous social, economic, and ecological systems.  Humanity has a need for persistence.  And since humanity depends on services of ecosystems for its wealth and security, humanity and ecosystems are deeply linked.  As a result, humanity has the imperative of striving for resilient socio-ecological systems in light of sustainable development.

Resilience thinking is inevitably systems thinking at least as much as sustainable development is.  In fact, ‘when considering systems of humans and nature (socio-ecological systems) it is important to consider the system as a whole.  The human domain and the biophysical domain are interdependent’.  In this framework where resilience is aligned with systems thinking, three concepts are crucial to grasp: (1) humans live and operate in social systems that are inextricably linked with the ecological systems in which they are embedded; (2) socio-ecological systems are complex adaptive systems that do not change in a predictable, linear, incremental fashion; and (3) resilience thinking provides a framework for viewing a socio-ecological system as one system operating over many linked scales of time and space.  Its focus is on how the system changes and copes with disturbance.

To fully understand resilience theory, the report focuses therefore on the explanation of a number of crucial concepts: thresholds, the adaptive cycle, panarchy, resilience, adaptability, and transformability.

As shown, humanity and ecosystems are deeply linked.  This is also the fundamental reason why to adopt the resilience-thinking framework is a necessity for governance.  The resilience perspective shifts policies from those that aspire to control change in systems assumed to be stable, to managing the capacity of socio–ecological systems to cope with, adapt to, and shape change.  It is argued that managing for resilience enhances the likelihood of sustaining desirable pathways for development, particularly in changing environments where the future is unpredictable and surprise is likely.

This exposes the strong need for Sustainable Development Governance to embrace resilience thinking.  It is not only about being trans-disciplinary and avoiding partial and one-viewpoint solutions; what is needed to solve today’s problems – and especially those linked to sustainable development – is a new approach that considers humans as a part of Earth’s ecosystems, and one in which policies can more effectively cope with, adapt to, and shape change.

In this scenario, the concept and key characteristics of so-called adaptive governance seem to be a practical means for societies to deal with the complex issues that socio-ecological systems are confronted with.  Therefore, adaptive governance is best understood as an approach that unites those environmental and natural resource management approaches that share some or all of the following principles: polycentric and multi-layered institutions, participation and collaboration, self-organization and networks, and learning and innovation.  Additionally, four interactive crucial aspects for adaptive governance are suggested: (1) to build knowledge and understanding of resource and ecosystem dynamics; (2) to feed ecological knowledge into adaptive management practices; (3) to support flexible institutions and multilevel governance systems; and,(4) to deal with external disturbances, uncertainty, and surprise.  Therefore, nine values toward a resilient world are also suggested: diversity, ecological variability, modularity, acknowledging slow variables, tight feedbacks, social capital, innovation, overlap in governance, and ecosystem services.

Finally, three examples analyse practical instances in terms of resilience: (1) the approach taken by the so-called climate change adaptation discourse; (2) the Kristianstad Water Vattenrike, a wetland in southern Sweden that showed problems with loss of wet meadows, decline of water quality, and a disappearing wildlife habitat; and 3) the Goulburn-Broken Catchment from the State of Victoria (Australia).  Some lessons can be drawn from these three cases.  From the first case, governance structures have direct implications for the level of flexibility in responding to future change as well as variation in local contexts.  Sensitivity to feedbacks relates both to the timing as well as where these feedbacks occur.  Therefore, learning is more likely if feedbacks occur soon relative to action, and if those most affected by feedbacks are those responsible for the action.  Additionally, the way in which a problem is conceptually framed determines the way in which responses are identified and evaluated and therefore influences the range of response characteristics.  Second, the example from Sweden revealed that (a) the imposition of a set of rules to protect an ecosystem from the outside will not ensure the natural qualities of a region will be preserved over time.  One size never fits all, and an understanding of local history and culture needs to be integrated into the management if local values are to be looked after; (b) for an organization to meaningfully deal with complexity at many scales, it needs to include representatives from each of these levels in the social network; (c) several organizations need to be prepared to contribute to a shared vision and build consensus and leadership – crucial components in adaptability and transformability.  Third, the Goulburn-Broken story demonstrates the critical importance of understanding the underlying variables that drive a socio-ecological system, knowing where thresholds lie along these variables, and knowing how much disturbance it will take to push the system across these thresholds.




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Institutional Failure Increasing European Biodiversity Losses ?

2010-10-14 …

Our Ultimate Goal … as Human Beings … must be to arrive, as quickly as practicable, at a dynamic and harmonious balance between a Sustainable Human Environment and a flourishing, not just a surviving, Natural Environment … with the Overall Aim of achieving Social Wellbeing for All.

Note:  Human Environment … Anywhere there is, or has been, an intrusion by a human being in the natural environment.

Note:  Social Wellbeing … A general condition – in a community, society or culture – of health, creativity, responsible fulfilment, and sustainable development.

Simply stated … Biodiversity is Critical for the Good Health of the Natural Environment !   And yes … the Natural Environment is a Living System … and we must become comfortable when using such terms as ‘health’, ‘injury’ or ‘harm’ in relation to its condition.  Or, should I say ‘her’ condition ??

Furthermore … a Flourishing Natural Environment is an essential foundation for Biodiversity within a Sustainable Built Environment.

Note:  Built Environment … Anywhere there is, or has been, a man-made or wrought (worked) intervention by humans in the natural environment, e.g. cities, towns, villages, rural settlements, roads, bridges, tunnels, transport systems, service utilities, and cultivated lands, lakes, rivers, coasts, seas, etc. … including the virtual environment.

[A Short Digression:  One important point needs immediate and unequivocal clarification … it is only in the context of Biodiversity within the Built Environment can there be any consideration or discussion about the Sustainable Use/Exploitation of that Biodiversity !]


Shamefully … as Human Beings … we have made a terrible, terrible mess of Our Planet.  And it continues … and continues …

Initiated at the time of the Deepwater Horizon Offshore Drilling Rig Explosion and Fire, on 20th April 2010 … this summer’s BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexicoan unprecedented Local Environmental, Social and Economic Tragedy and a Regional Disaster … unfolded very quickly and very prominently in front of our eyes.  It was a long time, however, before the full nature and extent of this catastrophic incident was revealed.

Excluding the issues of Public Relations Spin, Withholding and/or Concealment of Vital Information, Individual Incompetence, and Lies … Institutional Failure (or, to put it another way, Lack of Institutional Capacity) alone … i.e. failure to properly anticipate, or to be adequately prepared, and/or to respond effectively and in a timely manner … added to, and magnified, the scale of this disaster.


On Wednesday, 14 July 2010, the following brief overview describes the United States Disaster Response … my sincere apologies for reproducing the quaint, but prehistoric, Imperial Units of Measure …

Disaster Response Vessels

  • Vessels of Opportunity:  2,754
  • Barges:  more than 540
  • Skimmers:  more than 580
  • Other Vessels:  more than 3,000
  • Total Active Response Vessels:  more than 6,870


  • Aircraft:  119

Boom Data

  • Boom deployed:  more than 3.27 million feet
  • Boom available:  more than 855,000 feet
  • Total Boom:  more than 4.12 million feet

Oil Recovered

  • Oily Water Recovered:  nearly 32.9 million gallons
  • Amount Estimated Burned:  nearly 10.97 million gallons
  • Oil Captured (CAP) over last 24hrs:  more than 539,000 gallons

Oil Dispersants

  • Surface dispersant used:  more than 1.07 million gallons
  • Sub-sea dispersant used:  more than 762,000 gallons
  • Total Dispersant Used:  more than 1.83 million gallons

Personnel Involved

  • Overall Personnel Responding:  more than 44,000 personnel



United States National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

 Staff Working Paper No.2 – 6 October 2010

Decision-Making within the Unified Command

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (276kb)



IN EUROPE … during this International Year of Biodiversity … a Major and Widespread Regional Disaster is unfolding quietly, slowly … hidden from the view of the general European public … and in relation to which important lessons must be learned from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster.  Please examine closely that U.S. National Commission’s Staff Working Paper No.2 above.

On 4th October 2010 … the European Environment Agency (EEA) published Report No.5 : ‘Assessing Biodiversity in Europe’ … which clearly stated (in the final paragraph of the final chapter … and then, only when quoting from another document !) …

‘ a large proportion of European species and habitats are either facing extinction, have an unfavourable conservation status, or their status is unknown.’


THE QUESTION which must be asked is … whether there is yet proper … or even sufficient … Institutional Capacity at European Union and EU Member State levels to implement Any European Biodiversity Strategy … with the clearly specified target of protecting, conserving and nurturing Biological Diversity in Europe ???


Does the following cautiously worded text convince you ?   Not me, I’m afraid !

EEA Technical Report No.5 / 2010 – Chapter 4 – ‘Conclusions, Way Forward & Knowledge Gaps’

European Biodiversity has declined dramatically in the last two centuries, with the conversion of natural habitats to meet growing demands for food, energy and infrastructure.  Although the pace of change has varied across the region and has generally slowed considerably in the last couple of decades, agricultural land use now accounts for almost half of the European terrestrial area.

In coastal and marine areas, industrial fishery operations have had similarly large impacts, affecting both fish populations and habitats throughout European coastal and marine waters.  Nearly half of assessed fish stocks in Europe fall outside safe biological limits.  The majority of biodiversity in Europe now exists within a mosaic of heavily managed land and seascapes, and is to a large degree linked to agricultural, forestry and fishery practices across the continent.

In recent decades, growing awareness of biodiversity decline has led to improved commitments, policies and practices for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity throughout much of Europe.  Biodiversity is now higher on the political agenda in Europe than ever before.  Significant targeted responses have been made by public, civil society and private institutions to restore habitats, protect threatened species and reduce the main threats to biodiversity in Europe.

As a result of the policies adopted and implemented at international and European scales, including the Birds, Habitats, and Water Framework Directives, there are indications that some aspects of biodiversity are improving in status in parts of Europe.  There have been significant increases in forest cover in the last two decades across northern Europe and the status of many waterways has improved across Europe as a result of reduced industrial and agricultural pollution in many countries.  Recovery plans have been documented and are being implemented for many of Europe’s threatened species, with some successes.

While ambitious targets are being set in Europe to halt biodiversity loss and some progress is being made, many threats remain and new ones are growing.  This erodes the ability of ecosystems to provide services to people in Europe and beyond.

Threats to Europe’s biodiversity include habitat loss and degradation, unsustainable harvesting, establishment and spread of invasive alien species, pollution from agricultural runoff in many countries, unsustainable forest and agriculture management, increasing water abstraction and use, and increasing climatic change impacts, especially in southern and northern Europe, and in mountainous areas across the region.  The loss of wetland and dryland habitats also continues.

Future Progress in addressing these threats and conserving Europe’s Remaining Biodiversity will depend on success in Four Key Areas:

1.  Enhanced Implementation Of Measures Targeted At Biodiversity Conservation.  There has been progress in protecting and restoring threatened species and habitats across much of Europe, and protected areas and sustainable farmland and forestry management practices have grown steadily.  However, there remains considerable opportunity to scale up such practices across the region, including coastal and marine areas.  Such direct efforts for biodiversity conservation are a cornerstone of conservation.  They are essential to manage the most important threats and conserve the most threatened biodiversity.  However, alone they are insufficient to address biodiversity loss in the medium and long term because many of the direct drivers, and all of the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, emanate from other sectors.

2.  Policy Coherence On Biodiversity Is Required With Other Sectors.  In order to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, policies in other sectors that have an impact on or depend on biodiversity need to be supportive.  These include those on trade, agriculture, fisheries, planning, transport, health, tourism, and the financial sector, including insurance.  In many EU countries, considerable funding for managing biodiversity in landscapes is obtained from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  Mainstreaming biodiversity into these areas – in both the public and private sectors – is essential for an integrated approach to biodiversity conservation.  Successful mainstreaming will require all sectors to recognise the value of biodiversity.  Recent efforts to ascribe accurate economic values to biodiversity and ecosystem services, for example ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB, 2010), provide a basis for mainstreaming.

3.  A More Integrated Approach Across Sectors And Administrative Boundaries, At Landscape And Seascape Scales.  This entails applying the ecosystem approach more widely, and requires co-operation across sectors for successful implementation.  The present report shows that management of some habitat types, such as forestry and freshwater systems, is already starting to apply such approaches.  Others, such as marine habitats, mountains and agricultural land, have not yet been adjusted sufficiently.  Integrating protected areas, ecological networks, connectivity areas, production and urban landscapes into multifunctional land-use planning at a regional scale will be an essential element of a successful European conservation strategy.  Likewise at watershed and landscape scales, the integration of biodiversity and natural resources management, including that of water, will require dialogue and agreement between the multiple stakeholders using, depending on, and managing such resources.

4.  Public Awareness Of The Relevance Of Biodiversity To The Lives Of European Citizens, And The Consequences Of Biodiversity Loss At Local, European And Global Scales, Needs To Be Raised.  Significant efforts are therefore required on communication, education and public awareness, to complement the policy framework and to encourage both individual action for biodiversity conservation, and a supportive public opinion for changes in policy and practice.

This report shows that, particularly regarding forest habitats, public awareness of the value of sustainable practices and recycling is increasing.  This can be enhanced by publicising how more sustainable practices can benefit both society and the ecosystems themselves.

Despite being the region with the longest and broadest biodiversity knowledge base, key knowledge gaps remain across Europe.  Filling such gaps would support action and policies across the four key areas.

Knowledge gaps exist in individual elements of biodiversity.  Little is known, for example, about many aquatic systems (and especially floodplains and deltas), genetic diversity beyond the agricultural sector, and for many taxa at the species level.  Considerable further work is required to assess the status of plants, invertebrates and fungi, and to assess trends in species status.  A global base of species level assessments (or ‘Barometer of Life’) would cost some €45 million (Euros), according to recent estimates (Stuart et al., 2010).

My Note: Taxon (plural Taxa) … Any unit used in the science of Biological Classification, or Taxonomy.  Taxa are arranged in a hierarchy from kingdom to sub-species, a given taxon ordinarily including several taxa of lower rank.  In the classification of protists, plants and animals, certain taxonomic categories are universally recognized; in descending order, these are kingdom, phylum (in plants, division), class, order, family, genus, species, and sub-species, or race.

In addition to knowledge of specific elements of biodiversity, interdisciplinary knowledge gaps are particularly apparent, with little in the way of accumulated knowledge on the interlinkages between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human wellbeing.  Recent efforts to link biodiversity science with economics have been particularly promising but further interdisciplinary research and assessment would support strengthened decision-making and policymaking processes on European biodiversity in the 21st century.

Key Gaps in Knowledge that emerge from this report are as follows …

  • Data Availability:  Data beyond EU-27 Member States are often limited, especially European-level information on biodiversity (species, communities and genetic stock).  Generally, data for marine species and habitats are much scarcer than for terrestrial ecosystems, and across Europe some important ecosystem types (e.g. marine and coastal) are among the least studied.  Data are often lacking at relevant scales, e.g. for key environmental drivers or habitat change.  This information would help set solid and relevant targets and continually improve sustainable management schemes.
  • Climate Change Adaptation Strategies:  Information on adaptation measures and strategies is often insufficient for many European ecosystems to counteract adverse climate change impacts and maintain ecosystem goods and services (e.g. FAO, 2009).  While climate change considerations have largely driven the debate on adaptive capacity and vulnerability, there is now increased recognition of the multidimensional nature of drivers of change, responses and feedback mechanisms (e.g. CDE, 2009).
  • Ecosystem Services:  Enhanced information on environmental, economic and social benefits of the ecosystem services supplied by biodiversity is lacking to inform sustainable management of ecosystems and raise public awareness of biodiversity’s value and the link to livelihoods.  The value of non-marketed goods and services are an important element in this.
  • Optimal Land-Use Strategies:  It is important to finding the optimal mix of protected and productive areas, whether used for intensive agriculture or biomass for energy.  More detailed data and analysis are needed to assess the extent and consequences of losing natural habitats through land conversion for increased biomass, e.g. biofuel feedstock production (FAO, 2008).  Ecosystem approaches are also particularly well suited for addressing competing land-use issues in a systematic and holistic framework, even in the absence of economic valuations, and they have considerable potential as an integrated management tool (Hicks et al., 2008).
  • Sustainable Management Indicators:  More knowledge on sustainable management indicators is required along the lines of the pan-European indicators of sustainable forest management.
  • Green Infrastructure:  More information is required on the potential benefits of a green infrastructure approach to facilitate land development and land conservation together in a way that is consistent with existing natural features to deliver multiple benefits to people and biodiversity.

Recognising the urgent need to address these issues and reverse the trends of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, the Environment Council adopted the 2020 Headline Target on 15 March 2010 and the European Council endorsed the Long-Term Biodiversity Vision on 26 March 2010.  These ambitious initiatives will underpin the new EU Biodiversity Strategy to be finalised by the end of 2010.  In its conclusions, the European Council specified that the strategy to address biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation should set a clear baseline outlining the criteria against which achievements are to be assessed.

EEA developed the EU 2010 Biodiversity Baseline (EEA, 2010) to respond to this need.  It offers a comprehensive snapshot of the current state of biodiversity.  It thereby supports the EU in developing the post 2010 sub-targets as part of the biodiversity strategy and provides factual data for measuring and monitoring progress in the EU from 2011 to 2020.  This new information tool demonstrates that a large proportion of European species and habitats are either facing extinction, have an unfavourable conservation status or their status is unknown.  It highlights the urgent need for conservation actions and intensified efforts.


In Ireland … am I convinced that the New National Biodiversity Plan 2010-2015 (draft for public consultation, dated 1st September 2010) will turn out to be anything more than just another slick looking public relations document issued by our one and only Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) ?   I’ll give you one guess what my answer is !!!




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