The Ecosystem Approach is a concept that integrates the
management of land, water and living resources and aims to reach a
balance between three objectives: conservation of biodiversity; its
sustainable use; and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the
utilisation of natural resources. It is the primary implementation
framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
An Ecosystem Approach takes into account that humans and
cultural diversity are an integral element of most ecosystems. It
applies appropriate scientific methodologies, focused on various
levels of biological organisation, which encompass the fundamental
structure, processes, functions and interactions amongst and
between organisms and their environment.
The Ecosystem Approach is not a formula, but a framework that
can be adapted to suit various issues and situations. The
definition of an Ecosystem Approach does not specify any particular
spatial unit or scale; therefore it can refer to any ecological
unit at any scale.
It is important to recognise that the Ecosystem Approach does
not provide an all encompassing solution as its application depends
upon local, provincial, national, regional or global conditions. An
Ecosystem Approach should not be regarded as a strategy that
supplants other techniques and tools; where ever possible existing
strategies and methodologies should be used in conjunction to
address complex problems and issues.
The Ecosystem Approach is an adaptive management strategy that
can be employed to deal with the complex and dynamic nature of
ecosystems and counteract the lack of knowledge or comprehension of
their functioning. Ecosystem processes are often non-linear,
fluctuate spatially and temporally and frequently show time-lags;
these discontinuities can create a high level of uncertainty which
the Ecosystem Approach can help overcome.
Adopting this balanced approach ensures that natural resources
and society as a whole are positioned in the centre of the decision
making process, ensuring a more equitable and long-term future is
Ecosystems and Biodiversity
An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and
micro-organism communities and the abiotic environment interacting
as a functional unit.
Ecosystems are not static but dynamic and discontinuous systems
with interactions and connections which continually evolve both
spatially and temporally. They represent ecological processes and
the resources they provide can be expressed in terms of goods and
Biological diversity, or ‘Biodiversity’, refers to the
variability among living organisms from all sources including,
inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic
ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part.
This includes diversity within species, between species and among
12 Principles of the Ecosystem Approach
Twelve Ecosystem Approach Principles
The Ecosystem Approach is a strategy that promotes conservation
and sustainable use of natural resources in an equitable way
through the integrated management of land, water and living
resources. It is the primary framework for action under the CBD and
is comprised of twelve principles that are complimentary and
interlinked. When applying the Ecosystem Approach these elements
should be taken into account:
1. Recognise objectives as society’s choice.
2. Aim for decentralised management (i.e. subsidiarity).
3. Consider the extended impacts, or externalities.
4. Understand the economic context and aim to reduce market
5. Prioritise ecosystem services.
6. Recognise and respect ecosystem limits.
7. Operate at an appropriate scale, spatially and
8. Manage for the long-term, considering lagged effects.
9. Accept change as inherent and inevitable.
10. Balance use and preservation.
11. Bring all knowledge to bear.
12. Involve all relevant stakeholders.
Focus on the relationships and processes within an
ecosystem: Knowledge of ecosystem properties and the
functional roles of biodiversity are essential when developing
Enhance benefit-sharing: The Ecosystem
Approach seeks to maintain and, in some cases, restore the benefits
provided by biodiversity at the ecosystem level and ensure these
functions benefit stakeholders responsible for their production and
Use adaptive management practices:
Applying an Ecosystem Approach requires adopting a long-term
learning process that informs the adaptation and development of
ecosystem management and monitoring.
Carry out management actions at the scale appropriate
for the issue being addressed, with decentralisation to lowest
level, as appropriate: Because ecosystems operate at
a variety of scales, managers should define the appropriate level
for decisions and actions.
Ensure inter-sectoral cooperation: The
Ecosystem Approach will need to be integrated into wider policy
areas and sectors that have a bearing on biodiversity.
Cross-cutting Issues: In addition to the
operational guidance there are a number of cross-cutting issues
that will need to be taken into consideration when applying the
Ecosystem Approach. These include: Capacity-building and
participation; information, research and development; Monitoring
and review; and Governance. More>>>
Ecosystem services are the benefits people
obtain from ecosystems. The terminology is derived from two
Ecosystem goods (such as food) and services (such as atmospheric
oxygen production) represent the benefits humans derive, directly
or indirectly, from ecosystem functions (Costanza et al,
Ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through
which natural ecosystems, and their constituent species,
sustain and fulfil human life. They maintain biodiversity and the
production of ecosystem goods (Daily, 1997) . Services are widely
classified into ‘functional groupings’, where they are categorised
into provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural
The value of ecosystems may be comprehended and expressed
differently depending upon cultural conceptions, philosophical
views and professional disciplines. Various techniques are
available to value ecosystem services. Values can be considered in
terms of ‘total economic value’ which accounts for both the use and
non-use values society can gain or lose from changes in ecosystem
Many ecosystem services are not traded on markets meaning that
many services remain un-priced. Therefore it is necessary to assess
the relative value of goods or services using non-market valuation
methods. The valuation technique adopted will depend on which
ecosystem service is to be valued, as some methods may be more
suited to capturing values of particular ecosystem services.