September 6, 2011 by
Payments for environmental services target communities whose economic activities have a direct impact on environmental resources and aims at providing them with incentives for protecting the ecosystem.
Payments for environmental services bring together communities, governments and industry into beneficial relationships that try to resolve conflict over access to environmental services. Getting these stakeholders to work together is not easy as each group is primarily looking out for its own interests. As the environment faces increasing pressure to meet demand for food, water and land, the ecological system that sustains life on earth is threatened and these groups should find ways to begin working together to stop and reverse the trend.
It is with this in mind that the Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa (PRESA) project of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) held two workshops with over 30 representatives from government, community organizations, industry, NGOs and research organizations, to discuss effective approaches on Payments for Environmental Services (PES).
The workshops were held from 8 – 12 August in Nairobi, Kenya, with participants from Ethiopia, Guinea, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and the United Kingdom.
The first of the workshops sought to increase understanding of the opportunities associated with payments for environmental services. Speakers highlighted how PES could act as an incentive for sustainable use of natural resources.
The second workshop was more technical. Participants learnt about the tools required to undertake social impact assessment (SIA) of carbon projects. The workshop was based on methodology tested and refined in Reducing Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) applications in Brazil, Guatemala and Peru, as well as earlier SIA training workshops in Peru and Tanzania in 2010.
At the workshops, different types of PES schemes were discussed. “Through PES, communities can access funds that previously were not accessible to them, for example, through private sector investment in environmental services,” explained Dr. Sara Namirembe of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
As a market-based mechanism, PES must have sellers, buyers and intermediaries (those who link sellers and buyers). Environmental service sellers are land managers who conserve or enhance a clearly defined ecological benefit. Buyers or beneficiaries are a well defined group of people for whom a particular ecological benefit is of great importance.
The biggest test when setting up a PES scheme lies in getting buyers. Potential buyers should first be convinced of the benefits of paying for environmental services. Private companies may object to spending money on what they consider a non-profitable activity. “Markets may not be able to pay for all public goods,” says Dr Michael Richards, who has published guide books on PES. However, the alternative to not ensuring environmental sustainability could be a decline in environmental services in the long term.
“Potential buyers should understand and be confident about PES in order to create the necessary demand,” says Dr. Namirembe, “PES is about trade-offs, all parties gain something and also give up something else.”
Another difficulty with PES schemes is that there are usually more sellers than there are willing and available buyers. This creates uneven power relations as sellers can only get what buyers are willing to give. PES requires that funding is sustained, yet, even where buyers are available, long term funding is not guaranteed.
High investment costs
The costs of starting and running a PES project can be high. Regular monitoring of community members to ensure compliance is expensive. Since PES involves long term contracts, it may discriminate against those with weak tenure rights as buyers are usually interested in dealing with land owners or farmers with secure tenure. This creates the risk of leaving out the poor, who are more likely to lack formal land tenure.
Getting PES into national and regional policy
But the process can be made easier if PES was part of environmental policies and new links with relevant public institutions. For this to happen, researchers working on PES need to engage more with government and the private sector. Workshop participants advised PES researchers to influence environmental policy at regional cooperation bodies, such as the East African Community and similar organisations elsewhere in Africa.
The workshops included a discussion of case studies from the RUPES project in Asia (Rewarding the Upland Poor for Environmental Services). Beria Leimona from the World Agroforestry Centre office in Bogor, Indonesia, was in Nairobi to share PES experiences from RUPES sites.
Presentations can be downloaded from the internet through the following links:
The workshop report can be downloaded by clicking the following link: Report of the Training workshop held in August 2011 [PDF, 1.2MB]