Theme 1: Ecosystem Services
Specific Research Topic: Assessment of the full range of values of particular ecosystem services in the Mekong Region. This includes the assessment of relative values for different stakeholder groups and the identification of multiple or competing uses of ecosystem services from the ecosystems under study. The analysis should also examine the management systems used to gain access to the ecosystem services, including the assessment of their costs and benefits in economic and livelihood terms. The approach should have an action research character, working with local level resource managers to identify options for improving natural resource management systems to maintain and enhance ecosystem services flows.
The research should also assess the policy and regulatory framework that governs the ecosystem services in question, including the identification of policy gaps, perverse incentives or contradictions between different aspects of the policy framework. As part of this, the potential for ‘mainstreaming’ ecosystem services into poverty reduction and economic development policies and programmes should be identified. Changes over time in the range of values and uses should be
explored. The research should provide clear guidance on the methods used for ecosystem services valuation.
Background: Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems: provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as climate regulation and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual and recreational benefits; and supporting services, such as nutrient cycling and soil formation. The evidence available suggests that many types of ecosystem services are being degraded and managed unsustainably across the Mekong Region. This has the potential to jeopardise many of the development gains being made in Mekong countries, and in particular to reduce the effectiveness of or even reverse poverty reduction efforts being made in, in particular, rural areas where the livelihoods of many households are highly dependent on access to
a range of ecosystem services.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) provided a new scientific focus on understanding and quantifying the rate and value of the delivery of ecosystem services and the connection between ecological processes, human welfares and economic systems. The MEA exposed huge gaps in the science of ecosystem services: gaps that are as true in the Mekong Region as in the rest of the world. Substantial research needs to be done to develop our knowledge of ecosystem
services – their current condition, changes in service availability over time, significance in livelihoods, their implications for the pace and form of economic development and options for restoring or maintaining ecosystems.
In particular, the valuation of ecosystem services in relation to poverty reduction and economic growth is a key strategic issue if more coherent policies towards ecosystems management are to be developed. Conventional economic calculations only include ecosystems services that enter the market, such as timber from forests or tourism fees. The full value of these services is rarely, if ever, appreciated by policy makers. In consequence policies to protect the functioning of ecosystems are not perceived as contributing to economic development and poverty reduction; indeed the opposite can be true: environmental sustainability is seen by some as reducing economic growth. The need for counter-factual evidence that demonstrates the full value of ecosystem services is a key strategic research issue for sustainable development in the Mekong Region.
Generating this understanding and integrating it into policy development requires much greater interaction and coalitions among stakeholders, disciplines, institutions and policy processes that traditionally have worked in isolation. Achieving sustainable development depends on a full understanding of not only the cause and effect relation between ecosystems and human well-being but also the policy processes that drive changes and dictate how ecosystems are managed. Under this theme, research grants will be provided to projects that can and will generate the knowledge needed to impact and understand policies that help to develop resilient ecosystems and promote sustainable development in the Mekong Region.