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13 December 2012   

          What are ecosystem services and
why do they matter?

The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) commissioned  Australia21 to research how ecosystem services concepts are evolving, and their relevance to policy development for the Australian Government and other sectors of society, particularly with reference to agricultural land. 
What are Ecosystems services?  Ecosystems are complex interactions among living and non-living components of the environment, eg forests, grasslands, marine ecosystems. These interactions mediate processes that achieve major transformations of resources, many rivalling or exceeding what can be cost effectively achieved by humans, eg regulation of atmospheric gases, large scale filtration and purification of water. These transformations (ecosystem services) support and enrich human life, but are often overlooked in decision making because decision makers lack information about them, and they (mostly) are outside economic markets and haven’t had an economic value attached to them.
The Australia21 report. An Australia21 team led by one of our directors, Geoff Gorrie and Dr Steve Cork produced the report, “Discussion Paper on Ecosystem Services for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry”. It concluded that one of the greatest benefits of the adoption of an ecosystem service approach would be its value in facilitating dialogue between parties on complex major policy challenges facing Australia. It recommends building on existing approaches and developing tools and improving governance arrangements to facilitate assessment of ecosystem services across all areas of government and society.  
What’s next? Australia21 is now collaborating with DAFF, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Bureau of Meteorology, and Dr Bob Costanza of the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU to plan the for the integration of an ecosystems approach into Australian government policy. The first workshop on this topic will be held in early 2013.
Stay in touch with progress via the DAFF website, from which most of the above is taken, or via Australia 21  
Photograph: John Harvey

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