Belgium Ecosystem Services: a new vision for society-nature interactions (BEES)
The BElgium Ecosystem Services (BEES) cluster project aims at identifying and stimulating research on ecosystem services in Belgium. It will do so mainly by organizing a series of workshops covering different aspects of Ecosystem Services (ES) Research. These workshops will discuss diverse aspects of the issue, and will include a key note lecture by at least one key researcher from abroad, specialised in the topic. The format of the workshop (presentations, debate, brainstorming sessions) can vary, depending on the objectives of the workshop. It is very likely that the workshops will also lead to more intense bilateral communications with experts from outside the project consortium.
Natural, semi-natural ecosystems & landscapes provide beneﬁts to human society, which are of great ecological, socio-cultural and economic value (e.g. Costanza et al., 1997; de Groot et al., 2002). These beneﬁts consist of a mix of goods and services, both private and public, provided by multi-functional landscapes, which, therefore, are sometimes referred to as our “natural capital”.
Ecosystem services are distinct from ecosystem functions, because there is human demand for these natural assets. Costanza et al. (1997) raised awareness on this by calculating the total contribution of ecosystem services to the global economy, which amounts up to ca. 33,000 billion US$ and is at least of the same order of magnitude of the entire global GDP (at 35,000 billion US$). Although these estimates were very coarse and caused some controversy, the insights from this publication stimulated a lot of research on this concept, leading among other to a global Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) (2005).
This work showed that the state of most ecosystems is deteriorating, as is the delivery of the majority of ES. Recently, Braat & ten Brink (2008) have estimated that, if the degradation of the ecosystems continues at the present pace, the growth of the global economy will come to a standstill, because the ecosystem goods and services presently provided for free will need to be provisioned by other, human-initiated operations that will undoubtedly be more costly. The economic valuation of ecosystem services clearly presents a promising tool to highlight the relevance to society and the economy of ecosystem services, and to serve as an element in policy development (CBD, 2007). Such a valuation, however, involves complex issues including the understanding of ecological mechanisms leading to the delivery of ES.
In Belgium, very few attempts to evaluate ecosystem services in financial or other terms have been conducted so far. In 2006, a conference “The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Implications for Belgium” (Bourdeau & Zaccaï, 2007) was organised, followed by a workshop in 2008 “Ecosystems Services Seminar”. Considering the importance of ecosystem services to the Belgian economy and to human well being, it only appears logical to introduce these services in economic considerations, in order to take them into account in relevant policies. It is moreover urgent to do so before their decline results in an explosion of costs. To develop an adequate scientific basis for such a study, a targeted effort is needed to promote focussed research contributing to both science policy as well as environmental policy (e.g., polluter pays principle, management of natural resource conflicts, development of water management schemes, environmental damage liability, etc.). BEES cluster aims to deliver an overview of the issues at stake, from environmental, methodological economic to sociological, and to advice on priority research and policy actions needed to come to a policy-relevant strategy for ecosystem services in Belgium.
- Flemish Institute for Technological Development - Environmental economics group (VITO), Inge Liekens
- Flemish Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO), Francis Turkelboom
- Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) - Lab Aquatic Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Luc De Meester
- Natural Resources Human Environment and Agronomy (RHEA), Alain Peeters
- Belgian Biodiversity Platform, Hendrik Segers
- SPW - Direction Générale Opérationnelle de l'Agriculture, des Ressources Naturelles et de l'Environnement (DGARNE)/ Département de l’Etude du Milieu naturel et agricole (DEMNA), Vincent Brahy