Valuing and Designing Payment Systems for Ecosystem Services

A short course held in conjunction with EAERE 2016 June 21-22, 2016, in Zurich, Switzerland

Course description
Payment systems for ecosystem services (PES) have expanded rapidly in the decade since the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Most PES systems pertain to regulating services, and they aim to create incentives to conserve ecosystems that are presumed to supply such services. Examples include watershed payment programs that are intended to improve water quality or reduce floods and droughts by conserving forests in upland regions. Despite the increasing popularity of PES systems, the value of the services that these systems actually supply in practice remains poorly understood, and the design of the systems faces a number of economic challenges that can impede their effectiveness. 

This two-day course will cover both of these issues: the valuation of regulating ecosystem services, and the design of PES systems to supply those services. It will involve a mix of lectures and interactive exercises. The valuation sessions will include hands-on econometric exercises that use the statistical package Stata. The sessions on PES design will include group discussions and presentations. The primary instructors in the course are: Prof Nick Hanley (University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK) and Prof. Jeffrey R. Vincent (Duke University, North Carolina, USA)

Venue and target audience
The course will be held at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), immediately before the 2016 Annual Conference of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists ( Its target audience is researchers, policy analysts, and policy makers from developing countries who have received their PhD within the past 5-10 years. Researchers who work on policy-relevant issues, and policy analysts and policy makers with research backgrounds who wish to learn advanced theory and methods related to economic aspects of ecosystem services, are especially welcome to apply. If space allows, then advanced PhD students and researchers holding MSc degrees will also be considered.
A limited number of scholarships is offered, which will cover roundtrip airfare, lodging during the course and the Conference, and a reduced registration fee for the Conference. 
For more information and how to apply click here.

Seminar: People and Sulfur: The Forgotten Element Cycle

The carbon cycle has taken centre stage as a global element cycle in the run-up to the Paris climate conference and beyond. Even the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles get plenty of attention in their role as critical elements for food production, as well as pollutants that can eutrophy freshwater systems and the coastal zone. But in many ways, the global sulfur cycle is just as important.

It was at the centre of the acid rain problem that afflicted Europe and eastern North America a few decades ago. For many years, sulfur compounds have been central to the role of aerosols in local and regional air pollution, most notably as a feature that threatens the stability of South Asian monsoon system and that drives health impacts through urban air pollution.

But the sulfur cycle is also crucial in the functioning of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. In fact, one of the key feed-back mechanisms that operates in the global climate system, involving marine microorganisms and clouds, could be coupled to the sulfur cycle.This seminar explores the global sulfur cycle and its complex relationship with people with 2015 Volvo Environment Prize laureate Professor Henning Rodhe and colleagues.

Henning Rodhe is Professor of Chemical Meteorology at Stockholm University. His pioneering work explains how gases and particles are transported and deposited and how they affect climate, ecosystems and human health. Henning Rodhe’s research can be described to some extent as detective work, combining data collection with scientific theories and fieldwork. He has demonstrated that long-range transportation, as for mercury and radioactive fallout, is more widespread than previously believed. The atmosphere can carry particles a very long way, and the fallout and environmental problems can occur where not expected.

Professor Henning Rodhe, Stockholm University, Sweden
Senior Advisor Peringe Grennfelt, IVL, Swedish Environmental Research Institute
Professor Deliang Chen, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Professor Mary Scholes, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Professor Caroline Leck, Stockholm University, Sweden
Moderator: Professor Will Steffen, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University

For detailed program download invitation

Tuesday 24 November 2015, 13.00-16.30

The Beijer Hall, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm

The symposium is free of charge and open to the public but registration
is required. Please register at by 20 November

A new landscape of global crises

In the past crises were often local and isolated. They left surrounding ecosystems and societies largely unaffected. This made aid and governance work easier. Today, crises are becoming more global in reach affecting more people and systems at the same time.

In a recent study in Ecology and Society a framework is proposed to identify the causes, processes and outcomes of multiple interconnected crises, which the authors term "synchronous failure”. The study was led by Thomas Homer-Dixon and Brian Walker and the authors team include Beijer researchers Anne-Sophie Crépin, Carl Folke and Max Troll, as well as several colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience  Centre.

The framework shows how several stressors together can cause a crisis which can rapidly spread to become global in reach.
The framework could be used as an initial guide for systematic analyses and identifying early-warning signals and measures for building social-ecological resilience. It can also support establishment of appropriate governance structures that can navigate the danger of synchronous failure.

Causes of crises
The authors argue that future crises will increasingly result from three long-term global trends: the dramatic increase in human economic activity in relation to Earth’s environment, the rapidly increasing connections across the globe, and the decreasing diversity of human cultures, institutions, practices and technologies.
These three trends create several stresses and reduce the capacity of systems to deal with disturbances. Case studies from the 2008 financial-energy and food-energy crises illustrate this.

Three processes at play
The authors identify three processes that occur in such a crisis, often simultaneously and reinforcing each other.
The first is the long fuse big bang where slow burning stresses suddenly reach a tipping point. The straw that broke the camel’s back is not a steadily increased pressure with proportional response throughout but rather a sudden shift.
The second process, simultaneous stresses, emphasizes that many stresses can act on a system simultaneously, for example drought, poverty and social conflict. The relationships and the combined effect of them are important to understand in order to predict their effect and outcome.
The third type called ramifying cascade occurs when sudden and severe disturbances spread through tightly connected networks.

"The future wellbeing of humankind depends on functioning energy, food, water, climate and financial systems. It is increasingly clear how tightly these systems are connected," says Carl Folke.

"We encourage further research on how energy, food, water, climate and financial systems are connected. This type of knowledge is important to understand our capacity to sustain these systems and learn how to deal with crises in the future.”

Read more

Full article

Homer-Dixon, T., B. Walker, R. Biggs, A.-S. Crépin, C. Folke, E. F. Lambin, G. D. Peterson, J. Rockström, M. Scheffer, W. Steffen, and M. Troell. 2015. Synchronous failure: the emerging causal architecture of global crisis. Ecology and Society 20(3): 6.

Managing ecosystems for predictable outcomes may backfire

When it comes to ecosystem goods and services, we humans tend to want to know what we are going to get. Therefore, we try to manage the use of our ecosystems in ways that minimizes their variability. 
But a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that managing ecosystems for predictable outcomes is risky. In fact, more often than not, it backfires.
Co-author and Beijer Institute director Carl Folke explains: "Command-and-control management of ecosystems might make flows of ecosystem services predictable in the short term, but unpredictable and less resilient in the long term."
The pathology of short-term thinking
At the heart of the problem is the fact that while we can reduce variability in the short frame, variability doesn’t go away, it just goes somewhere else. Take for example our attempts at flood control on rivers.
By installing levees, engineers are able to constrain flow and curb the fluctuations in water levels that once led to routine flooding of low-lying areas. These levees work so well that whole communities now exist in what were once floodplains. But, of course, the levees cannot remove all variability from the system. Sometimes a levee breaks or a river reaches levels higher than what the levee was built to withstand. The end result is a flood that is much more destructive than before.
Lead author Steve Carpenter, Beijer Fellow and director of the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison explains: "For many years the river stays in the levee and everything is fine. However, every once in a while, it goes out and everything is worse."
Losing control
Folke, Carpenter and their colleagues ran a series of computer models looking at three human endeavors – controlling nutrient pollution in lakes, maintaining cattle production on rangelands invaded by shrubs, and sustaining harvest in a fishery.
In all cases, when they tried to control variance, for instance by tightly controlling fish harvest or shrubs in grasslands, unexpected outcomes occurred. Fish stocks collapsed at lower harvest levels. Grasslands were replaced by shrubs with even light pressure from cattle grazing.
Steve Carpenter says that living systems "need a certain amount of stress" noting that "as they evolved they continually got calibrated against variability."
"Just as our immune systems rely on exposure to bacteria and viruses to sharpen their skills at responding to disease, natural systems also need that kind of stimulation.” 
This does not mean we shouldn not try to manage our ecosystems responsibly and sustainably, it just means that we may need to redefine acceptable levels of change and variability.
Carl Folke concludes that we need more adaptive approaches that allow for greater natural variability in social-ecological systems and encourage a diverse set of management approaches: "By exploring what does and doesn’t not work resource managers can better learn how to sustain ecosystems as they change over time”, says Folke.

2016 Mäler Scholarship in Environmental Economics

The Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics  is pleased to announce a new round of the Mäler Scholar competition. 
The institute created the Mäler Scholarship in 2009, in honor of Professor Karl-Göran Mäler’s long-standing contributions to environmental economics around the world. The scholarship is intended for early-career researchers in environmental economics from developing regions of the world who already have a PhD or are currently enrolled in a PhD program and will finish within 1-2 years. Preference is given to researchers affiliated with four regional environmental economics networks—CEEPA, EEPSEA, LACEEP, and SANDEE—and the EfD centers. Others are welcome to apply. For information on past recipients, click here.
The scholarship allows researchers to spend up to 6 months at the institute developing new projects in collaboration with Beijer researchers.  The research focus of the applicant during the stay should relate closely to at least one of the Beijer Institute’s research programs. We particularly encourage applicants willing to use empirical methods to study and quantify linkages between ecosystem dynamics like regime shifts and economics in their home countries.
The institute is now accepting applications from researchers who are interested in spending up to 6 months at the institute during January 2016– June 2016 or August 2016 – December 2016. Deadline is 30 October.
Information on how to apply is found here

Nudges: The new black in environmental policy?

Nudging – a collection of behaviour change techniques – is increasingly attracting the interest of researchers, policy makers and the media. However, despite all this attention, it is not particularly clear to many what exactly nudging is, what it is not and why nudges can (sometimes) be so effective in changing our behaviour. To make the issues clearer, Therese Lindahl and Britt Stikvoort wrote a report exploring them.
The report was written for the Swedish think tank Fores and was launched in June 2015. It sought to answer the following questions: Are there enough sound scientific grounds for nudging today on which policy makers can base their policies? What really is the current state of the art in nudging research, what lessons can we learn from these past experiences and what are the biggest caveats in our current knowledge about nudging?
The report was presented by Therese Lindahl and discussed by a panel that included Per Bolund, Minister of Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs, during the Swedish policy week in Almedalen, Visby in July 2015. Since then it has received a lot of attention from policy makers and the media
Download the report in Swedish and English

Keystone actors shape marine ecosystems

Only 13 corporations control 19-40% of the largest and most valuable stocks and 11-16 % of the global marine catch, according to new research published in the journal PLOS ONE, authored by researchers at the Beijer Institute, GEDB and Stockholm Resilience Centre. These "keystone" corporations of the global seafood industry critically shape the future of marine ecosystems.
The new study makes an analogy between the largest companies in seafood industry and keystone species in ecological communities. Keystone species in nature have a profound effect on the structure and function of the ecosystem and disproportionately determine the prevalence and activities of other species.
"The phenomenon of keystone actors is an increasingly important feature of our human-dominated world. Active leadership in sustainability initiatives by these corporations could result in a cascade through the entire seafood industry towards improved management of marine living resources and ecosystems," says lead author Henrik Österblom, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
"Increasing demand for seafood has contributed to a global fisheries crisis, with consequences for marine ecosystems around the world," Österblom adds. Existing analyses of global fisheries operations have, however, so far largely focused on the role of countries, rather than industry corporations.
A handful of dominating corporations
The study found that the average annual revenues of the 160 largest companies in 2012 exhibit a distinct keystone pattern, where the top 10% account for 38 % of total revenues. Among these, the authors analysed thirteen companies more in detail and found that they shape very large marine ecosystems around the world and are involved in both wild capture fisheries and aquaculture, including whitefish, tuna, salmon, shellfish, fishmeal, fish oil, and aqua feeds. Their combined annual revenues correspond to 18% of the global value of seafood production in 2012 (US$ 252 billion). This handful of corporations, represent only 0.5% of 2250 registered fishing and aquaculture companies worldwide.
Such keystone actors among corporations, the authors say, can be defined by the following characteristics: a) they dominate global production revenues and volumes within a particular sector, b) control globally relevant segments of production, c) connect ecosystems globally through subsidiaries, and d) influence global governance processes and institutions.
"Several of the fishing companies we investigated are larger than most nations in terms of their share of global catches. Our study reframes the responsibility for fishing in terms of transnational corporations, illustrating that they must be included into the equation if we are to solve the global sustainability crisis in marine ecosystems,” says co-author Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, Phd-student affiliated to all three institutions.
Österblom, H., Jouffray, J-B., Folke, C., Crona, B., Troell, M., Merrie, A., and Rockström, J. 2015. Transnational corporations as ‘keystone actors’ in marine ecosystems. PLOS ONE,

Beijer Institute research visualised in art-science exhibition

Pressrelease 2015-04-14

”The biosphere is the thin outer layer of this planet in which life exists. We humans are part of the biosphere and completely dependent on the air, the oceans, the forests and all other ecological systems in order to survive and thrive.” So begins the text interpreted by artist Jesper Waldersten in the exhibition Patterns of the Biosphere at the classical Swedish design company Svenskt Tenn. It is also the exhibition's overarching message and the basis for all research at the Beijer Institute.

-Regardless of whether one likes nature or not, we are all totally dependent on the biosphere for our own welfare, says Carl Folke, Director of the Beijer Institute. Environmental concern is today seen by many as an obstacle to development, but the conflict between economic development and ecological sustainability is really just a mental construct.

The Swedish interior design company Svenskt Tenn's profit goes via the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation to the support of research conducted at the Beijer Institute. In an exhibition opening 15 April, the institute’s research on the interaction between man and the biosphere is visualised. 

“Virtually all human activity has effects on the biosphere one way or the other. We want to help widen this knowledge and its importance for our future and the future of the planet, and also clarify the fact that all Svenskt Tenn's customers are contributing to important research in this field,” says Maria Veerasamy, CEO of Svenskt Tenn. 


Research at the Beijer Institute include developing new models of thinking and a terminology suited to our times. The Institute has been part of introducing and establishing the concepts "natural capital", "ecosystem services" and "ecological footprint". The results of the Institute's research are being picked up and put into practice at different levels throughout the world, for example in UN documents, EU decisions and national measures in different countries, but also at the local level in municipalities and companies.

A new approach to nature, the biosphere we live in, is the key to a more sustainable society. One way to accomplish this is to explain the world from a transdisciplinary holistic approach, applied by the Beijer Institute.

- Previously, both science and policy focused on one thing at a time. It is only now we begin to grasp the whole picture and understand the scale of the challenges. No place on Earth is unaffected by man and there is no human being that does not depend on the biosphere, says Carl Folke. He continues:

- The meeting between art and science makes it possible to reach people on a more emotional level than scientists normally have access to. We are very happy to have the opportunity to create this exhibition in collaboration with Svenskt Tenn and that it can be displayed in this unique environment.

The exhibition is free of charge and runs from April 15 through to June 15, 2015 in the Svenskt Tenn store in Stockholm.

Read more in the exhibition broschure: English Swedish

For more information, contact

Agneta Sundin, communication officer, the Beijer Institute +46 8-673 95 38 or,

Vicky Nordh, Marketing Assistant, Svenskt Tenn: +46 8-670 16 23 or

Thommy Bindefeld, Marketing Director, Svenskt Tenn: +46 8 670 16 02 or

Beijer Institute researchers receive funding from the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation

Gustav Engström and Chandra Kiran have together with Johan Gars of the Academy programme Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere (GEDB), received five million Swedish kronor (SEK) in project funding from the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation, to investigate the links between the macroeconomy and biophysical processes. One objective is to study the importance these links have for the use of economic policy instruments in relation to global environmental problems.
In addition to this research group, the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation has granted five million each to three other project groups in economics at Uppsala University, Stockholm School of Economics and Lund University.
“The four research groups to receive funding this year have all clearly demonstrated how increased added value can arise through close co-operation. The interdisciplinary content is also apparent in all four groups” said Kjell Blückert, MD of the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation.  "The Ragnar Söderberg Foundation targets projects by groups rather than by single researchers. We believe in the importance of what are known as microenvironments: close collaborations in a small, tightly knit group with many external contact interfaces."
About the research project 
This research project Global biophysical processes in climate-economics-modelling: Implications for economic policy instruments aims to study the links between the macroeconomy and the biophysical processes which at global level regulate the living environments on Earth. During the past century, the scope of human activity has greatly increased, as has the associated impact on a number of global biophysical processes.
An overarching perspective is important since many sectors in the global macroeconomy are affected by, and affect, biophysical processes. Obvious examples of such sectors are food production and energy.
The researchers want to create an overall picture of how different biophysical processes relate to each other and interact with the socio-economy in general. 
“We are very grateful for this funding, which will allow us to investigate how these processes are related”, said Gustav Engström. “Economic policy instruments today are often skewed towards a certain problem and can therefore have unexpected consequences within other sectors.  We hope that in the long run, our research can help improve the use of economic policy instruments to handle various global environmental problems at the same time, including climate change”.   

Global icons, local threats

Without better local management, the world’s most iconic ecosystems are at risk of collapse under climate change, says an international team of researchers in study recently published in Science.
Protecting places of global environmental importance such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon rainforest from climate change will require reducing the other pressures they face, for example overfishing, fertilizer pollution or land clearing.
The team of researchers warns that localised issues, such as declining water quality from nutrient pollution or deforestation, can exacerbate the effects of climatic extremes, such as heat waves and droughts. This reduces the ability of ecosystems to cope with the impacts of climate change.
"Managing local ecosystems can help maintain and enhance their resilience in the face of global changes. It is often easier to implement incentives for stewardship of the biosphere in local commons than in global commons, where the uncertainty is lower, and where positive results of management may be more visible," says Beijer Institute Director Carl Folke, one of the study’s co-authors.
Unique World Heritage Sites
The authors examined three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Spain’s Doñana wetlands, the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. While many ecosystems are crucial to their local people, these ecosystems also have a global importance—hence their designation as World Heritage Sites. For instance, the Amazon rainforest is a globally important climate regulator.
Like coral reefs, rainforests and wetlands around the world, these sites are all under increasing pressure from both climate change and local threats.
For example, rising temperatures and severe dry spells threaten the Amazon rainforest and, in combination with deforestation, could turn the ecosystem into a drier, fire-prone and species-poor woodland. Curtailing deforestation and canopy damage from logging and quickening forest regeneration could protect the forest from fire, maintain regional rainfall and thus prevent a drastic ecosystem transformation.
"All three examples play a critical role in maintaining global biodiversity. If these systems collapse, it could mean the irreversible extinction of species," says Beijer Fellow Marten Scheffer, the study’s lead author. He is Chair of the Department of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management at the Netherlands' Wageningen University.
No excuse - act locally
The authors suggest their evidence places responsibility on governments and society to manage local threats to iconic ecosystems, and such efforts will complement the growing momentum to control global greenhouse gases. Yet, in the three cases they examined, they found local governance trends are worrisome.
According to co-author Scott Barrett, the problem is one of incentives.
"These ecosystems are of value to the whole world, not only to the countries that have jurisdiction over them. It may be necessary for other countries to bring pressure to bear on these ‘host’ countries or to offer them assistance, to ensure that these iconic ecosystems are protected for the benefit of all of humanity," says Barrett, who is a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and former chairman of the Beijer Institute Board.
Above all, the paper raises awareness of the great opportunities for enhanced local action.
"Local management options are well understood and not too expensive. So there is really no excuse for countries to let this slip away, especially when it comes to ecosystems that are of vital importance for maintaining global biodiversity," concludes Scheffer.
Scheffer, M., Barrett, S., Carpenter, S.R., Folke, C., Green, A.J., Holmgren, M., Hughes, T.P., Kosten, S., va de Leemput, I.A., Nepstad, D.C., van Nes, E. H., Peeters, E.T.H.M., and Brian Walker. Creating a safe operating space for iconic ecosystems, Science 2015.