The value of an ecosystem services
approach for cities

A focus on ecosystem services can support the work of city authorities in at least three ways


First, the benefits we derive from a functioning environment become visible at the local level. If we adopt a focus on ecosystem services, their relation to municipal service delivery becomes evident. More recently, there has been a growing recognition of the significant role healthy functioning ecosystems play in supporting built infrastructure to deliver services to cities and people. For example, cities are often responsible for the provision of clean water to their citizens. A focus on the ecosystem services relevant to water provision and quality control can help identify the water purification capacity of, for example, nearby forests and wetlands. The preservation of the forests and wetlands can therefore become an integral part of the strategy to provide clean water to local residents and a nature-centric approach to complement existing water infrastructure such as dams and water treatment works.


Second, focusing on ecosystem services and valuing their contribution to building healthy and resilient cities enables decision makers to better anticipate the consequences of decisions or policies by making nature and ecosystems a central part of city planning and decision making. Healthy ecosystems generate multiple services whose benefits are visible in the economy, society and in the overall city well-being. As a result, long term cost-benefit analyses need to be undertaken when making any decisions relating to ecosystems. For example, when a forested area that is valued by both residents and local decision makers for the full range of services it provides is threatened by a new development, this will have to be considered in terms of the associated ecosystem benefits which would be lost.


Third, a focus on ecosystem services allows for effective communication and collaboration across different sectors, stakeholders and all relevant role players. Through these engagements, the city is able to create sufficient awareness and advocate for the protection, restoration and sustainable use and management of ecosystems by all. By creating this public awareness, decisions made by individuals, the public, and all other role players will be influenced by an overall awareness of the value of ecosystems in the city.  Ultimately, urban residents’ perceptions of ecosystems will be shifted, creating a generation of people connected to nature.

By focusing on ecosystem services, the value and multiple benefits of functioning ecosystems will be recognized, and the conservation of natural resources will be implicit as an effective means of creating and maintaining sustainable and healthy cities. An ecosystem services approach is complementary to other motivations to conserve nature, encouraging policy makers to consider the connections between natural systems and human well-being through several policy and management processes, including planning, budget allocations or infrastructure development. Ultimately, focusing on ecosystem services will help achieve a balance between developmental and environmental objectives.