- Robust Project
- Learning Hub
- News & Events
- Publication Library
- About us
A Natural Resource Management Approach for More Integrated Rural-Urban Governance
This Learning Guide is based on the following source(s):
Many of the frameworks conventionally used in natural resource management emphasize the monetary value of individual products. An ecosystem services approach instead describes the value of complex, layered interactions that make up ecological processes. Unlocking rural-urban synergies similarly relies on understanding rural and urban societies and economies as interconnected parts of shared ecosystems, rather than as distinct and wholly independent.
This Learning Guide introduces the concept of ecosystem services and their role in establishing rural-urban links and enhancing synergies in the ROBUST project.
You will learn:
- What an ecosystem services approach is
- Examples of planning systems, governance approaches and economic models that integrate ecosystem services
- Key tools, methods, and best practices for improving ecosystem service management at multiple scales
Ecosystem services are the ecological characteristics, functions, or processes that directly or indirectly contribute to human wellbeing. In other words, ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from functioning ecosystems.
Many typologies of ecosystem services exist, with common categories including:
provisioning services describe products obtained from functioning ecosystems, such as food, drinking water, fiber and genetic resources like seeds
cultural services are services that benefit emotional or spiritual well-being, such as recreation, tourism or inspiration for art or spirituality
regulating services refer to the ecological processes that enable and have an immediate effect on other service categories, such as water purification or climate regulation
supporting services refer to the ecological processes that enable and have long-term or indirect effects on other service categories, such as nutrient cycling or photosynthesis
The benefits that people derive from functioning ecosystems
Many of the frameworks conventionally used in natural resource management emphasize the monetary value of individual products. An ecosystem services approach instead describes the value of complex, layered interactions that make up ecological processes. Unlocking rural-urban synergies similarly relies on understanding rural and urban societies and economies as interconnected parts of shared ecosystems, rather than as distinct and wholly independent. For this reason, the ROBUST project adopted the concept of ecosystem services as a functional theme.
The ROBUST project developed a theoretical framework to identify, evaluate and envision rural-urban synergies in policy and practice, centering on three principles: New Localities, Network Governance, and Smart Specialization. You can read more about this framework in the Three Keys to Unlocking Rural-Urban Synergies: A Theoretical Approach from ROBUST Learning Guide.
Ecosystem service-driven development can generate new localities by enabling planners to engage with relational space in a tangible way. Understanding the services people in a given area benefit from requires planners to focus on a place’s “Outer Space”, or non-urban area, and to explore how urban and rural features co-exist, compete, or overlap. This can help to highlight the multifunctional potential of rural, peri-urban and urban areas.
An ecosystem service-driven development framework can help to open doors for smart development by highlighting policy, market, governance and sciences & technology tools that can enhance a local area’s capacity. For example, mapping ecosystem services can help to provide statistical and Geographic Information System (GIS) data needed to make more informed plans and decisions.
Enhancing an area’s ecosystem services benefits from, and can thus encourage, collaborative, multi-stakeholder decision-making processes (network governance), as these tend to more closely resemble the boundaries of ecosystems than institutions based on political or administrative boundaries. Pursuing local development through an ecosystem services lens can encourage a focus on more local administrative levels and novel types of public-private partnerships, in addition to more participatory and integrative municipal spatial planning procedures.
Unlocking rural-urban synergies relies on understanding rural and urban societies and economies as interconnected parts of shared ecosystems
Ecosystem service mapping – using GIS-based tools to visualize ecosystem services dynamics in a particular place – is a powerful tool that planners can use to communicate the benefits of ecosystem services to decision-makers and citizens.
Incorporating ecosystem services mapping into regional planning practices, such as through Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) or landscape planning, has a myriad of potential benefits, including:
- visualising the potential of ecosystem service supply of peri-urban spaces
- making clear that ecosystem service values are relative to the scale of analysis, existing knowledge, and governance level
- providing territorial planners’ understanding of what food system flows look like in different spaces
Despite its potential benefits, ecosystem services mapping is uncommon. When ecosystem services are mapped, the focus tends to be on just one service (e.g. hydraulic risk maps or soil permeability maps), rather than on multiple services in tandem, or bundles of services. While mapping services individually can provide a clear picture of the status of a particular dimension of an ecosystem, the effects of the interactions between different services might be overlooked.
Bundling different ecosystem services provides an effective "synthesis" of the assessment to be used for the decision process. Bundling is important in two ways:
- patterns of association of ecosystem services avoids double-counting, which helps understand how to deal with synergies and trade-offs;
- multi-functional possibilities in a given ecosystem can be made clearer.
Using the power of Geographic Information Systems
For regional development to be sustainable, decision-makers need to consider how changes in land use will affect bundles of ecosystem services. This is particularly relevant when deciding whether and how land should undergo urban or industrial development for the first time, a process known as “land take”.
Common guidelines specifying how ecosystem services should be mapped (and how the results should be incorporated into planning processes) can help to align land use decision-making across multiple scales.
Promising strategies for enhancing the implementation of biodiversity and ecosystem services in spatial planning with connections to rural, regional and sectoral funding strategies include:
- mapping spatially explicit information on ecosystem services in appropriate detail for decisions at respective scales
- fostering delivery mechanisms that consider planning proposals as part of systematic governance and policy mixes
- building alliances between planners, administrative, public, business and civil society actors to mainstream ecosystem services in all relevant policy and decision-making processes towards more sustainable spatial development.
Outer Space Inner Space Status Quo layout (left) and Plan 2030 layout (right) schematic
Illustrations from The Outer-Inner-Space Notion Applied
The population and population density of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main (FRM) region in Germany is growing quickly, which is diminishing the already scarce space that isn’t built up in the region. The regional planning authority wants to preserve what “open” space is left in the region, but has found this task challenging under the conventional planning system in Germany, in which Land Use Plans are developed by each individual municipality.
Under German Building Law, space outside of urban areas, or “Outer Space”, defined in these individual municipal plans is treated as land that is open and ready for development. In response, FRM’s regional planning authority is developing an innovative Regional Land Use Plan, which, in contrast, covers all of the region’s 75 towns and cities together.
Accompanying the regional plan is the development of a GIS-based approach to map the ecosystem services in the areas that would have typically been defined as “Outer Space” under each individual city’s municipal plan. By quantifying these services, the planning authority aims to better understand and visualize the implications of different development decisions on ecosystem services in the region holistically.
Circular farming is an umbrella term for practices and tools that minimize finite inputs, waste and emissions from agriculture.
This process of closing nutrient cycles on farms relies on and can also improve local ecosystem function; or, in other words, can enhance the value of land from an ecosystem services perspective. Circular farming can also help to enhance rural-urban synergies by localizing energy and natural resource chains. For instance, local farms can use urban food waste as an agricultural input, and both surplus manure and urban food waste can be used for biomass-based renewable energy.
In some areas, though, adopting circular farming practices means scaling down or transitioning completely away from conventional or traditional land uses. This can be a source of conflict if farmers lack meaningful livelihood alternatives. Providing compensation for ecosystem services is one approach to promoting more sustainable forms of land use while making sure farmers’ livelihoods are protected.
To minimize a sense of loss in cultural services, ecosystem service remuneration mechanisms can prioritize ecosystem services that are both associated with traditional practices, such as livestock agriculture, and can be enhanced through new practices, such as higher air quality and more biodiversity.
Circular farming can enhance rural-urban synergies by localizing energy and natural resource chains
In Ede, a municipality in the Netherlands and one of the ROBUST Living Lab locations, several recent regional and local development strategies consider circular farming to be one of the main pathways to encourage more innovative and sustainable agriculture, and to address local and regional environmental concerns, such as nitrogen build up in nature reserves.
Adopting more circular farming practices in Ede would require decreasing the number of cattle farmed, a traditionally important part of the local economy and culture. But in Ede, like in other areas, intensive livestock agriculture has, over time, become a form of economic lock-in, which is difficult to reconfigure without structural reforms. This has led many local farmers to perceive circular farming as a threat to local livelihoods and identity.
Community partnerships form when people organize themselves to manage good or services in the same place and in the interest of shared principles or values. They often engage both formal institutions, like businesses or public offices, and informal institutions, like volunteer groups. Community partnership thus represents a possible governance model to ensure that planners and decision-makers engage with the values and priorities of multiple stakeholders: essential to ecosystem services governance given the interconnected and transboundary nature of ecosystems.
Three keys to successful community partnerships, based on the experiences from the ROBUST Living Labs include:
1. Support provided by the public institutions.
Public institutions are fundamental to building and sustaining community partnerships. Examples of critical ways public institutions support community partnerships include providing administrative support, financing, and a favorable regulatory environment by ensuring local rules don’t local rules don’t present significant roadblocks to and, ideally, laying out clear channels for the establishment of community partnerships.
2. Balance in the degree of openness versus closure.
The success of a community partnership depends on the degree of openness, or inclusivity, or closure, or exclusivity. If partnerships are too open, e.g. if there are no or unclear guidelines about expectations for participation, there is a risk that the group will lose a sense of identity, which often results in partnerships being ineffective or dissolving. On the flip side, partnerships that are too exclusive can easily implode, e.g. from over-relying on the capacity of too few individuals, or from becoming overly isolated and failing to engage with the wider community.
3. Facilitation of the relationship between scales.
The exact ways social and environmental systems intersect looks different at different scales. This means that managing ecosystem services requires cooperation between policy-makers and practitioners across multiple governance levels. This scale of cooperation can be costly and challenging for any single institution to coordinate alone. Working with institutions at multiple scales to set up cross-level coordination mechanisms can help to ensure consistency in policies while reducing burdens on any individual institution.
Payment for Ecosystems Services (PES) schemes refer to mechanisms whereby people who benefit from ecosystem services compensate the people who make the service provision possible. PES schemes can be financed through public, private, or blended instruments.
In Europe, PES schemes have been implemented at multiple scales and in a range of ecosystems. For example:
A range of European Union (EU) subsidies support land managers in adopting sustainable land uses or practices. One of the biggest mechanisms for this is the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), through which farmers receive income support tied to practices that enhance ecosystem services. Implementing measures like crop rotation and diversification, establishing wildlife corridors, and preserving wetlands are some of the ways farmers qualify for certain direct payments under the CAP.
In the Upper Thames catchment in the U.K., NGO Thames Water funded a 5-year project to compensate and incentivize agricultural land managers to adapt practices and substitute methaldehyde-based pesticides, chemical runoff from which is extremely difficult to remove from water, for a ferric oxide-based one. Under this scheme, land managers lose a portion of their agreed payment if the downstream water quality falls below a certain threshhold.
On the southern coast of Sweden, an INTERREG-supported program paid a farmer to establish a blue mussel farm to reduce nitrogen levels in the Baltic Sea, which have become excessive in sea runoff due to eutrophication.
Through PES schemes, ecosystem service beneficiaries compensate the people who make services possible.
An analysis through ROBUST’s Ecosystem Services Community of Practice of PES schemes in Europe suggests that principles for effective and fair PES schemes include:
Flexibility: The nature of rural-urban interdependence is likely to change in light of challenges like climate change, demanding flexibility in PES schemes as new information comes to light.
Blended finance: Linking PES schemes to public sector initiatives -- such as agri-environment, water quality, urbanization, or carbon neutrality strategies – can save costs and provide a springboard for private schemes.
Systematic intervention impact monitoring: Building more systematic monitoring of the impacts of ecosystem service interventions into PES schemes early will improve the quality of future policies.
Clear cause-and-effect: PES works best where clear gains are generated through specific practice changes.
Solidarity between users and suppliers: Currently, most PES schemes operate under the assumption that it is urban areas that consume ecosystem services that are created in rural areas. But by taking this model for granted, PES schemes risk reinforcing silos that isolate urban from rural economies, but that don’t reflect the reality of interconnected regional ecosystems. By questioning this model – say, by engaging with ecosystem services provision in urban spaces -- PES schemes can encourage closer solidarity between rural and urban ecosystem services users and suppliers.
Principles for effective and fair PES schemes
Contributors: Yu-Yi Huynh, Sophie Callahan