Home > MEA Bulletin > List of Guest Articles > Guest Article No. 99b
MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 99b - Friday, 10 September 2010
Prospects for Mainstreaming Ecosystem Goods and Services in International Policies
Marcel T.J. Kok*1, Stephen Tyler2, Anne Gerdien Prins1, László Pintér2
1Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)
2International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
*Corresponding author email:
In Nagoya, at its 10th session of the Conference of the Parties, the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) is due to adopt a revised and updated Strategic Plan for the Convention, including new biodiversity target(s) for the post-2010 period. An important challenge for the CBD is to bring concern for biodiversity and the sustainable delivery of ecosystem goods and services (EGS) to the core of decision-making.

A widely recognised weakness of the CBD has been its limited impact so far on those underlying economic development-related factors that are amongst the most important determinants (drivers) of biodiversity loss and EGS delivery. These factors include economic development, livelihood choices, demographics, the structure and function of markets, conditions of local security, and the multi-dimensional links between various actors making decisions on investment, consumption and land use in distant corners of the planet. The outcome of this is especially important from the perspective of poverty reduction and development, as the risk of loss of EGS have become increasingly evident and particularly impacts the poorest people of the world.

Influencing the drivers of biodiversity loss and EGS delivery requires that the sectors affecting these drivers take better account of their impacts on biodiversity and EGS delivery. This is called mainstreaming (integration) of biodiversity and EGS, i.e. moving biodiversity and ecosystem services concerns beyond the traditional biodiversity constituency into relevant policy fields (see also GBO 2 and 3). Mainstreaming strategies aim to make biodiversity and EGS a standard concern in relevant policy domains that determine drivers of biodiversity and EGS losses, instead of an objective to be attained by one specific policy.

Given the CBD mandate and biodiversity’s essential role in influencing EGS, mechanisms under the CBD do have the advantage of targeting EGS delivery most directly. The CBD has also been actively trying to mainstream EGS into various policy domains, but with limited success so far. Recent and updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) reportedly have a stronger emphasis on mainstreaming and greater recognition of national development objectives (CBD 2010). The question remains what traction these plans have in actual decision-making and implementation in the relevant economic sectors. So, while the CBD could play an important role in mainstreaming EGS, its current influence on the behaviour of economic actors appears to be too weak to do so. This article aims to provide some suggestions on further operationalising a mainstreaming strategy for biodiversity and EGS.

Mainstreaming EGS can be approached from various entry points: local, national or international levels of decision-making and the business perspective. We explored the linkages between the local provision of EGS and the levers available in international policy processes to contribute to poverty reduction through the provision of EGS. International policies can either reinforce or undermine incentives for local sustainable ecosystem management practices.

Despite well-documented problems, the emerging evidence of linkages between EGS and various international policies and good intentions, the integration of EGS issues into international policy processes has not been a serious enough consideration beyond the environmental domain. In our analysis of different policy domains, we only found scant evidence for its proactive use in international policies. We explain this by the novelty of the concepts and by the lack of understanding of the complex mechanisms linking local ecosystems to international policy levers and well-articulated and practical conceptual framework and clear examples of operational mechanisms linking these different scales of endeavour, as well as supporting information that can be monitored transparently. An additional barrier is that the benefits from ecosystem exploitation are often enjoyed by a different group of people than those who bear the costs of EGS degradation. Often these differences cross national and generational boundaries.

Positive examples of international policy initiatives that target EGS include Millennium Development Goal 7 on Ensuring Environmental Sustainability and the REDD programme in climate policies, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity reporting, the Poverty and Environment initiative of UNDP and UNEP, and several international private sector initiatives. These try to come to agreement on common standards, criteria and indicators for the sustainable production of agricultural products (e.g., OECD Agri-Environmental Indicators, ISEAL Alliance), forest products (Montreal Process, Forest Stewardship Council), or the management of fisheries (Marine Stewardship Council) and have started to directly or indirectly address EGS and social standards for poverty reduction in their economic activities.

Based on our analysis of various policy domains, we argue that mainstreaming strategies can become a potentially important element of natural resources and biodiversity policies and can help to broaden the portfolio of policy options beyond environmental and biodiversity policies. We also argue that integrating EGS into the relevant international policy domains can contribute to reducing poverty while also improving EGS delivery at the local level. The policy domains we looked into include development assistance, climate, trade and the role of international financial institutions. Together these policy domains represent part of the broader international context for national and local measures that are relevant for sustainable EGS delivery and poverty reduction.

The basis for mainstreaming EGS in various policy domains can be found in many goals and policies already agreed upon by governments. Policy coherence is critical here. While individual policies matter, consistent constellations of policies across scales and policy domains will be needed for positive impact on both poverty reduction and EGS delivery. This requires an upfront consideration of why EGS are important in a specific international policy domain and identifying policy tracks, priority issues and tools that can support mainstreaming. See Table 1 for a summary of this analysis for development assistance, climate change, trade, and the role of international financial institutions. Please refer to the full report this article is based on for an extensive analysis.

An important step in mainstreaming strategies is to identify and apply tools that help catalyze a shift towards a view in which investing in EGS is seen as essential for supporting long-term development. Mainstreaming tools can be used to identify opportunities and risks and give EGS delivery the required attention in decision-making and implementation. While there is significant literature on the tools and processes for mainstreaming the environment in general, there is much less experience with the tools for mainstreaming EGS. Nevertheless, the experience concerning mainstreaming tools for the environment can serve as a starting point for integrating EGS into international policy. What is important, from the EGS perspective, is building on existing mainstreaming experience while also highlighting the specific risks and opportunities that arise from the perspective of the EGS approach. Tools developed within CBD could support this mainstreaming further.

The full report on which this paper is based can be downloaded here.
Policy domain and main type of policy measures Policy Tracks Priority issues
Development Assistance
Budget and sector support
Support for programmes and projects

Realisation UN Millennium Development Goals
Bi-Multilateral Development Assistance (ODA)
Policy Coherence for Development (PCD)
Raising the profile of EGS in national development planning mechanisms;
Contributing to building capacity for implementation;
Scaling up investments in food security and agriculture;
Improving tenure and access to natural resources.
Climate Change
Mitigation options and carbon offset

Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA)
Adaptation Policies
Recognition of the role of agricultural practices and land-use management;
Recognition of the linkages between agriculture and forest carbon sequestration in REDD;
Integrating Ecosystem-based Adaptation into climate adaptation policy.
Non-tariff measures

World Trade Organisation (WTO)
Bilateral and regional trade agreements
Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs)
Regional free trade agreements and cooperation on EGS;
Certification and private standards;
Subsidy reforms.

International Financial Institutions (IFIs) IFI reform process
IFI governance
IFI lending practices
Measuring and valuing what matters;
Integrating EGS into IFIs safeguard policies;
Finance of pro-poor EGS projects.
Table 1 Opportunities for mainstreaming EGS in various international policy domains
| Back to IISD RS “Linkages” home | Visit IISDnet | Send e-mail to IISD RS |
© 2010, IISD. All rights reserved.