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GRAND CHALLENGE: Integrating Different Values of Ecosystem Services into Policies and Management

– Scratching the Surface

Cecilia Akselsson and Yann Clough on Ecosystem Services under Global Change

In the Spotlight: Using Nature-based Solutions for Climate Adaptation

Urban areas are and will be severely hit by the effects of climate change where the specific impacts on each city will depend on the actual changes in climate experienced. Sudden effects include extreme weather events such as flooding, and incremental long-term effects could be warmer summers. By exploring nature-based solutions (NbS), that is, using nature to solve environmental and societal problems, cities could become more resilient to such impacts while promoting biodiversity and human well-being. Preferably, NbS are multi-functional, for example planting trees enhances air quality and mitigates climate change, but also offers shade and may increase biodiversity. However, it is important to understand negative interactions so as not to risk wrong or counter-acting measures. Planning for NbS also requires stakeholder involvement and an understanding of processes that balance different interests.

BECC researchers, among others senior lecturer Johanna Alkan Olsson, Dr Helena Hanson and Dr Juliana Dänhardt at CEC, LU, are involved in several projects dealing with various aspects of climate adaptation, from the potentials of NbS, risks and methods of implementation, to governance and policy instruments, some commissioned by authorities. One example is a project which revolves around using the policy-lab process to develop methods, structures, and ways of operation for the development of policies for cross-municipal climate adaptation across sector and interest boundaries, using NbS to balance different interests in relation to agriculture, water resources, and biodiversity. Another project deals with the risks of fragmentation and potentials of using an integrative approach to the development and implementation of NbS that not only accounts for multiple and interlinked social-environmental challenges, but also for multiple kinds of governing entities and societal stakeholders, and multiple social dimensions of change.

BECC researchers are also involved in a programme launched by the Nordic Council of Ministers to work together and enhance the knowledge base on NbS, restoration, climate mitigation and blue/green infrastructure. A recent report from their work points out the significance of better governance and financing, in conjunction with clear political priorities. The programme is now continued and will focus on guidance for the implementation of NbS. 

In the Spotlight: Forests and Its Different Values

Forests encompass many values, sometimes of conflicting nature. As a natural resource they can provide biofuels, building material, paper etc, requiring large scale industrial forestry. However, heavy usage comes at the expense of other key values such as biodiversity, being a carbon sink, and human well-being/recreational values. The challenges connected to forestry, often requiring trade-offs, have been on the political agenda for several years, both internationally and nationally.

When BECC started, the environment included several strong groups working on forests from various perspectives. We have had a clear goal of integrating and developing these areas, as well as initiating interdisciplinary collaboration and filling research gaps, to be able to meet the challenges. The BECC platform has made this possible. Currently, our researchers are involved in several interdisciplinary forest-focused projects on a national and international level, with strong stakeholder involvement. The projects are dealing with, for example, the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, rewilding as a conservation method, forest-based policy pathways for climate change mitigation, pathways to multifunctional forests in southern Sweden, integration of biodiversity considerations into financial decision-making, and investigating an approach to understanding and addressing conflicts over land-use practices in Sweden. 

In several of our projects, we are exploring connections between forestry methods, forest structures, and biodiversity to improve our models for assessing management effects on biodiversity and to evaluate trade-offs with forest production and other ecosystem services. In 2022 and 2023 BECC received 20 major grants of forest relevance, together involving 35 BECC researchers across eight departments.

In the Spotlight: Power, Justice and Legitimacy of Environmental Governance: The Case of Environmental Human Rights Defenders

Climate change and loss of biodiversity are global overarching concerns and need governance from global to local. These concerns cannot be handled in isolation but need integrated measures that should be just and legitimate, which the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) clearly show. In a recently developed project, BECC researchers Professor Fariborz Zelli, Department of Political Science, and Dr Torsten Krause, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, dive into a case about Environment and Human Rights Defenders (EHRD), where their engagement in advancing several SDGs lead to intimidation and violence. Indeed, human rights defenders, environmental and indigenous activists often fight simultaneously for political, cultural, social, economic, and environmental rights – and for the promotion and protection of different ecosystem services that their land (e.g. forests) can provide (from biodiversity to habitat and spiritual and cultural values). By the same token, these defenders in parallel advance major SDGs on no poverty (no. 1), gender equality (no. 5), biodiversity protection (no. 15) and peace (no. 16).  

Such defenders include Sami activists in Sweden as well as e.g. indigenous leaders in Colombia. The specific project focuses on Colombia, where the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the FARC-EP guerrilla group led to an increase in levels of violence against Environment and Human Rights Defenders (EHRD) – with Colombia becoming the country with the most EHRD killings annually on a global scale.

To explain and understand this counter-intuitive development the researchers use theories of social justice that stress the need for integrated measures to address economic, political, and cultural injustices in parallel, much akin to the holistic vision of the SDGs. They argue that a focus on correcting cultural misrecognition and political misrepresentation of vulnerable groups may, paradoxically, mask or facilitate further injustices, if that focus is not matched by efforts to address economic maldistribution. In Colombia, new forms of maldistribution have emerged and solidified since the peace agreement, including land grabbing, displacement of local populations, resource extraction and illicit economies. EHRD as multiple SDG agents are, thus, caught in a precarious situation between cultural recognition on the one hand, and economic injustice and political abandonment by state institutions on the other. The fate of EHRD in Colombia reflects an imbalance in justice priorities in an SDG-relevant transition process – and may provide lessons for post-conflict implementation of SDGs and protection and promotion of ecosystem services in other countries.