Creating innovative mechanisms for forest ecosystem services: what does science tell us?

Opportunities and challenges of ecosystem service provision were the focus of the first session of the SINCERE-Nobel Final Conference, held online on 28 September. With presentations covering aspects of research, policy, innovation and support mechanisms in practice, a diverse group of participants considered the state-of-the-art of forest ecosystem service provision and the possibilities for the future.

After a welcome by Robert Mavsar, Deputy Director of the European Forest Institute (EFI), SINCERE and Nobel projects were introduced by their respective coordinators.

Georg Winkel (EFI), SINCERE project coordinator, described how demands and expectations for forest ecosystem services (FES) are evolving, with different responses from owners to these changes in demand. This is the starting point for SINCERE which, with 11 innovation action cases, focuses on innovation, new mechanisms and business models for FES.

Harald Vacik (BOKU), Nobel project coordinator, described how Nobel project has explored alternative mechanisms for the payments for ecosystem services (PES), such as web-based auctioning platforms, as well as an indicator framework to evaluate the effect of management practices with forest ecosystem models. The project NOBEL develops business models and mechanisms to internalise the socio-economic value of forest ecosystems and demonstrate and compare alternative approaches for payments in five pilot demonstrations in Europe.

Scientific findings shared at the conference were organised into four sections. Key messages and the presentations follow, click on the picture to download each presentation (PDF). Then, can catch up on the videos of each section via our conference playlist, or scroll down to the bottom of this article and find the videos there.

1. An overview of forest ecosystem services in Europe

Results of a survey of forest owners and managers across Europe to estimate supply, demand, income levels and profitability of forest ecosystem services (FES). The survey was conducted separately for provisioning, regulating and cultural FES, with the main policy implication being that multifunctional forestry does not yet exist. Marko Lovric (EFI)

Challenges and opportunities for new FES across Europe based on two decades’ study on innovations in the forest sector.  The best approach for supporting innovations in FES is sketched as “top-down support for bottom-up innovations”. Gerhard Weiss (BOKU) 

2. Providing forest ecosystem services

The state of the art on payments for ecosystem services: Making adequate PES design choices requires the political will to boost environmental effects, as well as a willingness to pay exceeding the willingness to accept. This led to an interesting discussion on conditions for successful PES cases, what happens when payments for ES finish, and the virtues of monetary and non-monetary incentives. Sven Wunder (EFI) 

A boom of new initiatives of rural(social) innovation aiming at broadening the flow of ecosystem services of forests in recent years. The question is whether such new initiatives affect forest management interventions. The Ecosystem Service Cascade model was presented as a useful analytical framework. Harald Vacik (BOKU) and Bart Muys (KU Leuven)

Auction as an innovative mechanism to support provision of forest ecosystem services. SINCERE experimented with reverse auction to support biodiversity provision in Denmark while NOBEL had developed a new approach, ECOSEL, which attempts to shift the task of making trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services (ES) from the auctioneer to stakeholders (forward action). This led to a great debate on whether wealthy outside interests could “buy” the right to determine a local landscape. Influence of purchasing power and trade-offs between increasing equity with restrictions and accessing funding. Bo Jellesmark Thorsen (University of Copenhagen) and Logan Bingham, (University of Lisbon)

3. Policies for enhancing forest ecosystem services

Balancing the provision of multiple forest ecosystem services as a key challenge for both forest policy and management in the European Union and its member states, given diverging societal demands. Given the two distinct perspectives on forests in the European policy debate (industry vs nature conservation), there are several consequences. 1) A fundamental disagreement on the main policy goals for forests and on who has the rights to FES; 2) Reservations from both sides relating to the durability of funding; and 3) Considerations on where funding and resources should come from. Georg Winkel (EFI) and Helga Pülzl (EFI)

Insights from SINCERE and NOBEL on stakeholder engagement and participation from a local governance perspective. Experience from sixteen innovation cases showed that: there is benefit to strengthening plurality; the process itself is valuable; it is important to recognise that different FES have different values for different people; engagement can increase stakeholder skills and capacities (concepts); and that valid stakeholder interaction and networks have been created. Finally, local context is important, as is the consideration that great solutions do not fit all situations. There is a need to adapt, but also be aware that context can be influenced by these processes. (Mireia Pecurul, Irina Prokofieva (CTFC)

Throughout the session, active participation from the wide-ranging audience fed the lively Q&A segments, which covered topics including forest carbon, cultural FES, the link between extreme events and innovations on FES supply, the transition of FES from public good to market good, conditionality, and much more.

4. Panel discussion: the way forward for forest ecosystem services

An interesting and topical debate brought together Eeva Primmer, Research Director of the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, Eva Müller, Director-General for Forests, Sustainability and Renewable Resources Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Germany and Fanny-Pomme Langue, Secretary General of the Confederation of European Forest Owners in an all-female panel, expertly moderated by session host Jo O’Hara (FutureArk Ltd).

The debate was kicked off by an audience poll asking participants for their priorities on the development of incentives for FES provision.

The discussion that followed covered the role of FES in the new EU policies and strategies, the balance of FES demand and supply, and what action is needed for bridging polarisation and achieving policy coherence.

A final poll asked participants for one word to capture the topics and discussion of the whole session. Among the most popular answers was communication! dialogue, mediation and transparency. Clearly we need more coming together and talking over these issues – there is much to discuss!

Watch the videos of each section from session 1!

1. An overview of forest ecosystem services in Europe

3. Policies for enhancing forest ecosystem services

2. Providing forest ecosystem services

4. Panel discussion: the way forward for forest ecosystem services

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