Ecosystem services originate in healthy and functioning natural environments. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment divides ecosystem services into four categories: provisioning services include the basic necessities we consume and require for our well-being; regulating services provide us with a habitable environment; cultural services benefit people in a non-material manner; and supporting services enable ecosystems to flourish. An ecosystem's ability to provide services is improved when preserved, reconnected and restored, and compromised when disturbed, fragmented and degraded. Despite the valuable ecosystem services that natural environments provide us, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reports that 60 per cent of the world's ecosystems are being degraded and utilized unsustainably.
Society—and often individual businesses—can be better off protecting and restoring ecosystems for their goods and services rather than attempting to engineer alternatives that might cause other unknown problems. Practical applications of such a ecosystem goods and services (EGS) framework include environmental markets such as carbon and water quality trading and specific instruments such as payments for ecosystem services.
The Water Innovation Centre (WIC) provides cross-sectoral research, analysis and outreach in the management of ecosystem services with a focus on watershed-based agricultural ecosystems, including policy instruments such as payments for ecosystem services, water quality trading and reverse auctions processes.
Natural capital is the land, air, water, living organisms and all formations of the Earth's biosphere that provide us with ecosystem goods and services imperative for survival and well-being. IISD, funded by Environment Canada, has conducted research into the conceptual underpinnings of the Natural Capital Approach in order to devise a suitable framework for its application within Canada.
Manitoba Reverse Auctions (EcoTender)
The EcoTender project demonstrates a novel approach towards applying upstream management practices for downstream water quality benefits in Australia. IISD research explored the application of the EcoTender model to the Manitoba context and continues to provide analytical support to Manitoba's Interdepartmental Ecological Goods and Services (EGS) Working Group to develop a sustainable EGS policy for Manitoba.
Full-cost accounting is the assessment, in dollar terms, of costs or benefits associated with changes in the environment. In 2003, IISD embarked on a five-year research project with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada to study the issue of full-cost accounting and its application to policy development in agriculture.
Using Emergy to Value Ecosystem Services
Emergy (not to be confused with energy) is the energy that is used directly and indirectly to make a product or provide a service. The research investigates the advantages and disadvantages of using the emergy approach to value ecosystem goods and services, which are becoming increasingly rare due to the continued degradation of our world's natural environments.
Water Quality Trading
Water Quality Trading (WQT) is emerging as an ecologically and economically effective approach to improve water quality and is now being applied in many parts of the world to cost-effectively reduce water pollution from point and non-point sources. The International Institute for Sustainable Development is examining potential applications of WQT systems within the Lake Winnipeg Basin to lower phosphorous emissions impacting the lake.
Finding a better balance between human-altered and natural environments while maintaining or enhancing the overall long-term socioeconomic viability and well-being of the communities within the Red River Basin (RRB) is the underlying objective of the Building Capacity for Ecological Infrastructure Investments in the Red River Basin initiative. The Red River Basin Commission and the International Institute for Sustainable Development initiated this project to provide the municipalities and counties of the RRB with the ability to examine ecological infrastructure investments within and outside their jurisdictions to provide cost-effective services to their citizens.
Manitoba EGS Policy
Ecosystems provide food and clean water, manage disease, regulate our climate and can provide us with venues for recreation. As a provider of Ecological Goods and Services (EGS), agriculture provides us with commodities such as food, fibre and fuel. This research reviews EGS programs and policies from around the world and extracts key insights for a Manitoba EGS program.