ACES and Ecosystem Markets 2012 was held in sunny Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
This was the first year that three signature events--A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES), the Ecosystem Markets Conference, and the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP)--joined together to host more than 500 people from 21 countries and five Indian Nations.
Academics, policymakers, investors and practitioners had the chance to hear more than 150 concurrent sessions covering everything from paying for the work of pollinators to finding ways to balance the need to allow natural systems to support fisheries and restore land being lost to sea level rise and storms in coastal Louisiana with human use of the rivers for transportation.
Opening plenary sessions took a thoughtful look at where we have come since “ecosystem services” emerged on the world stage as a concept bridging environmental, economic and social issues almost a decade ago. One of the biggest changes noted by panelists is the way that ecosystem services concepts are being integrated into government policy and sustainable business practices and supply chain management.
When government agencies (state, federal or the European union) are required to include an ecological cost-benefit analysis when planning, the true impacts of infrastructure decisions can be weighed more effectively and the sustainability of a proposal can be more realistically evaluated.
While our ability to map and model ecosystem services flows has improved, our accounting systems still don’t adequately take into account the value of natural capital as raw materials for products and systems that keep our world, and us, healthy. Still there is a strong drive to provide information about ecosystems and how they work so that people can weigh the impacts of the choices we face in balancing human use of ecosystem services with keeping natural systems healthy over time.
AFF’s Tom Martin spoke on about the work of family forest owners across the country in stewarding their forestland in ways that provide healthy habitat, clear air and clean water to their fellow citizens, most often for free, because they care about their land and want to pass it intact to future generations. He challenged us not to let our desire for precision in knowing about ecosystem services prevent us from developing practical approaches that can be implemented by sellers and buyers of ecosystem services so that we can conserve what is truly of value to us and for the future.
For the first time, there was a panel of native American from around north America who described ecosystem services as gifts of nature, and told how the concept of markets for ecosystem services seemed strange. They encouraged us to learn from native peoples and their experience in living with the land, depending on their observations to keep their families and communities alive and healthy.
The natural world around them is integral to culture, and we were reminded of the need to respect that healthy ecosystems provide many benefits that we currently can’t value economically but are critical to our survival, such as soil formation. Throughout out the conference there were so many meetings and conversations as we learned from one another.
The conference was both exhilarating and exhausting. One person at the closing session summed it up well when she said that it was her first time at the conference and she had never been with a group that was so filled with joy and purpose in trying to figure out how to integrate an ecosystems approach to our economy so that they built each other. She could hardly wait to come back, and I’m already looking forward to our next gathering.
Learn more about ecosystem services at www.forestfoundation.org/ecosystemservices.
Photo by Mary Snieckus shows the American Forest Foundation booth at ACES and Ecosystem Markets 2012.