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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: June 2016

16 - Valuing peatland ecosystem services

from Part III - Socio-economic and political solutions to managing natural capital and peatland ecosystem services



Throughout history, peatlands have been inhospitable places for humans; feared as wilderness, despised as wasteland and often remained as unsettled borderlands (Silvius, Joosten and Opdam 2008). They became seen as valuable only since being drained for agriculture, forestry or peat extraction. This biased focus on direct provisioning services has long ignored the destructive effects of peatland exploitation on regulating and cultural services (e.g. loss of biodiversity, emissions of CO2 and nutrients, declining water quality and quantity).

The degradation of ecosystem functions inspired the recognition of human dependence on nature (e.g. Leopold 1949; Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1981; De Groot 1992; Daily 1997) and stimulated attempts to include ecosystem values in planning and political decision making (e.g. Krutilla 1967; Krutilla and Fisher 1975; Pearce and Nash 1981). Over the last two decades the concept of ecosystem services (Chapter 1) and their valuation have raised increasing interest. Within the scientific community it is represented by an exponential growth in publications (Fisher, Turner and Morling 2009). In addition, the policy world has boosted the concept by initiating major comprehensive studies such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA 2005), The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB 2008, 2010) and several initiatives on the national scale such as the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA). Launching the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) established an interface between the scientific community and policy makers comparable to the IPCC. It reflects as much the hope as the political challenge connected to the ecosystem service approach bridging nature conservation and human well-being.

This chapter aims to introduce the concept of ecosystems service valuation to readers with no economic background, gives an overview of valuation studies on peatlands, including three case studies Boxes 16.2 – 16.4), shows that expressing damage to peatlands as welfare costs provides economic reasons for conservation and restoration, and identifies instruments for the remuneration of benefits provided by functioning peatlands.

Valuing nature

The great variety of benefits derived from ecosystems is reflected by the distinction between economic value (welfare), socio-cultural value (well-being) and ecological value (ecosystem integrity and life-support functions) (e.g. MA 2005; De Groot et al. 2006). The valuation of ecosystem services integrates ecology (understanding and quantification), ethics (e.g. intergenerational justice), politics (setting objectives) as well as economics, psychology and sociology (disclosing the underlying values and motivations of people).