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Comparative Fortunes of Ecosystem Services as an International Governance Concept

Jen Iris Allan, Graeme Auld, Timothy Cadman and Hayley Stevenson

Global Policy, 2022, vol. 13, issue 1, 62-75

Abstract: Conservation biologists and environmental economists popularized ecosystem services as a governance concept in the 1990s. The concept, it was hoped, would valorize biodiversity conservation to place it on a level playing field with the economic concerns of the world's finance ministers and private sector. Has this valorization promise been realized within the international community? We examine this question by interrogating a constructed dataset of 272 international activities undertaken by international actors (e.g. non‐governmental organizations, inter‐governmental organizations, and other international organizations) that invoke or use the ecosystem services concept. We find that ecosystem service practice is dominated by capacity‐building not the valuation of nature. This suggests that the international community is not extensively using the concept to value nature in order to inform governance decisions. We posit that budget and management pressures facing international organizations along with priorities of countries help explain the dominance of capacity‐building. But we also suggest that a deeper understanding of the concept of ecosystem services – particularly its implied programme of action – is necessary to account for its unfulfilled promise to date. We close with implications from this study for broader work on global environmental governance.

Date: 2022
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