The global value of ecosystem services

Presented by ANU College of Health & Medicine

Professor Robert Costanza, Chair in Public Policy at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, will talk about ecosystem services.

Ecosystems are connected to human wellbeing in a number of complex ways at multiple time and space scales.

The challenge of ecosystem services science (ESS) is understanding and modeling these connections, with a range of purposes including raising awareness and providing information to decision-makers to allow them to better manage our natural capital assets.

For ecosystem services to occur, natural capital must interact with other forms of capital including: built or manufactured capital, human capital and social capital.

Thus ESS is inherently an integrated, transdisciplinary science that is concerned with the way these four forms of capital contribute to human well-being and the synergies and trade-offs among them. The process of valuation of ecosystem services is about quantifying and modeling these synergies and trade-offs.

The estimated average global value of ecosystem services was $33 trillion a year in 1995 $US ($46 trillion a year in 2007 $US).

We recently updated this estimate based on updated unit ecosystem service values and land use change estimates between 1997 and 2011. This resulted in an updated estimate of $145 trillion per year for 1997 and $125 trillion per year for 2011.

From this we estimated the loss of global eco-services from 1997 to 2011 due to land use change at $20.2 trillion per year.

We then estimated the future value of global ecosystem services under four alternative land-use scenarios to the year 2050.

The scenarios are a synthesis of prior scenario studies but are based around the four Great Transition Initiative archetypes: (One) Market Forces (MF); (Two) Fortress World (FW); (Three) Policy Reform (PR); and (Four) Great Transition (GT).

Under the MF and FW scenarios the value of ecosystem services continues to decline, while in the PR scenario the value is maintained or slightly increased and in the GT scenario the value is significantly restored, even exceeding the 1997 value.

We emphasise that valuation of eco-services (in whatever units) is not the same as commodification or privatization. Many eco-services are best considered public goods or common pool resources, so conventional markets are often not the best institutional frameworks to manage them. However, these services must be (and are being) valued, and we need new, common asset institutions to better take these values into account.

Professor Robert Costanza is a Chair in Public Policy at Crawford School of Public Policy. He is also currently a Senior Fellow at the National Council on Science and the Environment, a Senior Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Center, an Affiliate Fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, and a deTao Master of Ecological Economics at the deTao Masters Academy, China.

Costanza’s transdisciplinary research integrates the study of humans and the rest of nature to address research, policy and management issues at multiple time and space scales, from small watersheds to the global system. He is co-founder and past-president of the International Society for Ecological Economics, and was founding editor of the society’s journal, Ecological Economics. He currently serves on the editorial board of 10 other international academic journals. He is also founding editor-in-chief of Solutions (, a hybrid academic/popular journal.

Costanza is the author or co-author of over 500 scientific papers and 27 books. His work has been cited in more than 17,000 scientific articles and he has been named as one of ISI’s Highly Cited Researchers since 2004. More than 300 interviews and reports on his work have appeared in various popular media.