Our development, globally driven by the increase of our population and the will to improve our quality of life, is now facing several challenges that question its sustainability:
Climate change, largely induced by the consumption of fossil fuels, is menacing the living conditions of millions of people and biodiversity in general
The overuse of soils, water and chemical inputs is endangering agricultural yields in regions of the globe where food might already by a scarce resource
Deforestation and the decrease of other natural areas, pressured by the expansion of artificial land uses, is eroding biodiversity, causing the loss of unique resources (genetic, material or cultural) that support the lifestyle of numerous communities or the development of new medicines for example.
As can be seen, human activities are directly impacting the resilience of the natural ecosystems however necessary, through their provision of ecosystem services, to sustain our well-being over the long-term. Also, with the globalisation of our activities, through markets, communication and institutions, consumption patterns in a region of the world might very-well impact a region on the other side of the globe. As such, sustainability is an issue to be thought both locally and globally.
By referring to the concept of ecosystem services and their valuation at multiple scales, encompassing the diversity of socio-economic and ecological contexts that compose the World, we hope to better help understand how our future actions might further improve or degrade the sustainability of our development.
Legend: Ecosystem Services are the benefits retrieved from the ecosystems and biodiversity and that support human well-being. Acknowledged by multiple international consensus, they cover a wide variety of benefits, from food provision to water purification, fruits pollination, carbon sequestration or floods protection. Their preservation is now a key ingredient of several international actions aiming to conserve biodiversity and by the same way sustain our quality of life. / Source image: <link http: www.eea.europa.eu soer-2015 europe natural-capital-and-ecosystem-services _blank>the European Environment Agency's website.
Ecosystem services (ES) are beneficial inputs to the well-being of people and also drivers of technological development. The value of (or pressure on the supply of) ES in the well-established Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method is usually measured by only considering a few ‘provisional’ services (e.g. fossil fuels, wooden resources, renewable energy, minerals, freshwater, land use, taxa, etc.).
Some recently developed Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) models have proposed to harmonize land use inventories with impact indicators to assess the effect of land use activities on a limited number of ‘regulating and maintenance’ services (e.g. freshwater, climate and erosion regulation, water purification, etc.).
Despite this valuable advance, end-point costs or damages to natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem health do still not systematically cover the evaluation of ES. Moreover, approaches to assess the effects to ecosystem functionality and its relation to ES supply and pressure remain fragmented in LCIA. Hence, it is evident that current end-point damage LCIA models with regard to natural resources and ecosystem health should comprehensively cover the evaluation of several ecosystem services.
VALUES contributes to address this methodological gap.