Ecosystem Service Evaluation for Landscape Planning Policies: Addressing Data Availability Issues

Ecosystem Service Evaluation for Landscape Planning Policies: Addressing Data Availability Issues

Emma Salizzoni (Politecnico di Torino, Italy)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7927-4.ch008
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Ecosystem services (ES) are the subject of a constantly growing attention at the international level. Although in the most recent years significant progresses in ES evaluation have been made, important methodological challenges still exist. Among these, data availability is perhaps the most urgent one. High quality, spatially explicit, appropriate to the evaluation scale, and accessible data are needed to pursue an effective and reliable ES evaluation. These criteria drove the selection of data in a research relating to the assessment and valuation of forest ecosystem services (FES) in the Sardinia Region. However, it is not always possible to reach such data-quality targets. Big data could be an important resource to fill information gaps in the field of ES evaluation, though certain big data limitations suggest their careful management. Starting from the current research's outcomes with regard to assessment and valuation of FES in the Sardinia Region, the role of big data for supporting ES evaluation is eventually addressed.
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Experiences and studies concerning the assessment and valuation of Ecosystem Services (ES) are flourishing at international level, both in academic and institutional contexts (among the latter we can recall the following main institutional initiatives: the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - MEA, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - TEEB, the Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services, MAES). The increasing attention paid to ES can be explained both with the existence of international frameworks, such as the European Biodiversity Strategy, that expressively ask Member States to map and assess, within 2020, the state and economic value of ecosystems and their services (Strategy’s Target 2: “Maintain and restore ecosystems”), and, more generally, to the widespread acknowledgment of the potential of the ES concept itself for regional and landscape planning policies. The ES concept – namely the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems (MEA 2005), according to an eminently anthropocentric perspective (Wunder and Thorsen 2014) – is a bridging concept between environmental and socio-economic spheres (Braat and de Groot 2012). It effectively connects biophysical-ecosystem aspects and human welfare, by translating a wide range of ecosystem “functions” (form provisioning to regulation and cultural functions) into “benefits” for people. Thus, it clearly highlights the added value which environmental and landscape conservation provide for society and the economy, effectively communicating the advantages of sustainable development policies and also enlarging participation processes (Von Haaren et al. 2016).

These potentials of the ES paradigm are of course closely linked to the explanation and communication of the benefits connected with ES through their assessment and valuation. To this regard, the suitability of a joint assessment of both biophysical and economic values of ES is acknowledged at the international level (UN 2010), in relation to the need not only to take account of the actual “stock” of available natural capital but also to communicate the value of this natural capital in the most effective way (Häyhä and Franzese, 2014). Economic valuation of ES has undeniable power in terms of raising awareness among social actors with regard to the role played by ES (Nasi et al. 2002). In addition, it supports the development of policies and decision-making by highlighting the economic consequences of an alternative course of action (Mavsar and Varela 2014). Moreover, the definition of systems of Payments for Ecosystem Services (Wunder 2005, Muradian et al. 2010), connected to ES valuation, can promote the empowerment of local actors in landscape management. This can increase the effectiveness of landscape planning policies at the local level, assuring an actual link between landscape planning, design and action.

The mapping of the values connected to ES is also a crucial step (Maes et al., 2012; Schägner et al., 2013; Albert et al., 2017). Maps have a high “educational” value (Hauck et al. 2013), as they can convey otherwise complex information simply and effectively. The “spatialisation” of values connected to ES is essential not only for communicative aims but also for orienting spatial planning policies towards the conservation and enhancement of ES. Several studies that use GIS-based ES maps to address spatial planning policies have been recently developed. To this regard, the highlighting of spatial trade-offs among ES, and so of the supply and demand territorial hotspots (Syrbe et al. 2017, Frank and Fürst 2017, Barò et al. 2016), is of particular importance, as well as the showing of the spatial connections between ES providing areas and service benefiting areas (Walz et al. 2017).

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