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Payments for Ecosystem Services

Ecosystems and their “services”

Ecosystems support plant and animal life by maintaining the overall balance in nature. When functioning well, ecosystems also bring multiple benefits to people. These benefits range from provision of basic commodities, such as food and fuel, to spiritual benefits – for example, the aesthetically pleasing landscapes that we all enjoy.

The benefits that people get from nature are known as ecosystem services.

Ecosystem services can be roughly divided into:

  • Supporting services – those services creating conditions necessary for the provision of all other ecosystem services, for example photosynthesis or soil formation
  • Provisioning services – all products coming from ecosystems, for example food, fiber, fuel, herbs and medicinal plants, genetic resources, drinking water
  • Regulating services – the capacity of ecosystems to regulate important natural processes, for example regulation of climate, quality and quantity of water, etc.
  • Cultural services – non-material benefits from ecosystems, for example the aesthetic and recreational value of landscapes
Today, through our activities, we often exploit natural resources, influencing the capacity of ecosystems to provide us with their beneficial services. Agriculture, forestry, fishing, even tourism can be hard for ecosystems to swallow. With our excessive activities we impact air quality, water purification processes, flood control, the Earth’s climate.


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Danube floodwaters in a park from the town of Calarasi, Romania 
© Alexandru Tanasie
Danube floodwaters in a park from the town of Calarasi, Romania
© Alexandru Tanasie

Payments for Ecosystem Services as a major conservation tool

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) is an innovative approach to nature conservation.

Payments for Ecosystem Services is the name given to a variety of arrangements through which the beneficiaries of environmental services, from watershed protection and forest conservation to carbon sequestration and landscape beauty, reward those whose lands provide these services with subsidies or market payments.

Arranging payments for the benefits provided by forests, fertile soils and other natural ecosystems is a way to recognize their value and ensure that these benefits continue well into the future.

Across the world, environmental conservation is critical to secure the flow of ecosystem services that are essential for people and nature. With funding for natural resource management dwindling, a variety of PES schemes have emerged as potential sources of sustainable financing for conservation.

Payments for Ecosystem Services encourage the maintenance of natural ecosystems through environmentally friendly practices that avoid damage for other users of the natural resources. In addition to preserving natural resources, this method improves rural areas and rural lifestyles.

WWF and Payments for Ecosystem Services

Today WWF is leading the way in developing PES schemes around the world. In the case of Europe, recent and ongoing changes (e.g. Water Framework Directive, Common Agricultural Policy, Rural and Regional development policy, the Eastern enlargement of the EU as well as the European Neighborhood Programme) have opened a window of opportunity to mainstream PES as a major conservation tool.

At WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme we have been developing a number of practical initiatives, including a major project in the Danube Basin as well as smaller initiatives in the Maramures area of northern Romania.

In 2006-2007, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme worked with the Institute of European Environmental Policy and country partners on an EU-supported project to investigate the potential for innovative funding sources such as payments for environmental services for nature conservation in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey.