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Ecosystem services and ethics


  • Jax, Kurt
  • Barton, David N.
  • Chan, Kai M.A.
  • de Groot, Rudolf
  • Doyle, Ulrike
  • Eser, Uta
  • Görg, Christoph
  • Gómez-Baggethun, Erik
  • Griewald, Yuliana
  • Haber, Wolfgang
  • Haines-Young, Roy
  • Heink, Ulrich
  • Jahn, Thomas
  • Joosten, Hans
  • Kerschbaumer, Lilin
  • Korn, Horst
  • Luck, Gary W.
  • Matzdorf, Bettina
  • Muraca, Barbara
  • Neßhöver, Carsten
  • Norton, Bryan
  • Ott, Konrad
  • Potschin, Marion
  • Rauschmayer, Felix
  • von Haaren, Christina
  • Wichmann, Sabine


A major strength of the ecosystem services (ESS) concept is that it allows a succinct description of how human well-being depends on nature, showing that the neglect of such dependencies has negative consequences on human well-being and the economy. As ESS refer to human needs and interests, values are to be considered when dealing with the concept in practice. As a result we argue that in using the concept there is a need to be clear about what different dimensions of value are involved, and be aware of ethical issues that might be associated with the concept. A systematic analysis of the ethical implications associated to the ESS concept is still lacking. We address this deficiency by scrutinising value dimensions associated with the concept, and use this to explore the associated ethical implications. We then highlight how improved transparency in the use of the ESS concept can contribute to using its strengths without succumbing to possible drawbacks arising from ethical problems. These problems concern the dangers that some uses of the concept have in obscuring certain types of value, and in masking unevenness in the distribution of costs and benefits that can arise in the management of ESS.

Suggested Citation

  • Jax, Kurt & Barton, David N. & Chan, Kai M.A. & de Groot, Rudolf & Doyle, Ulrike & Eser, Uta & Görg, Christoph & Gómez-Baggethun, Erik & Griewald, Yuliana & Haber, Wolfgang & Haines-Young, Roy & Heink, 2013. "Ecosystem services and ethics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 260-268.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:93:y:2013:i:c:p:260-268
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2013.06.008

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kosoy, Nicolás & Corbera, Esteve, 2010. "Payments for ecosystem services as commodity fetishism," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(6), pages 1228-1236, April.
    2. Barbara Muraca, 2011. "The Map of Moral Significance: A New Axiological Matrix for Environmental Ethics," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 20(3), pages 375-396, August.
    3. de Groot, Rudolf S. & Wilson, Matthew A. & Boumans, Roelof M. J., 2002. "A typology for the classification, description and valuation of ecosystem functions, goods and services," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 393-408, June.
    4. Gómez-Baggethun, Erik & de Groot, Rudolf & Lomas, Pedro L. & Montes, Carlos, 2010. "The history of ecosystem services in economic theory and practice: From early notions to markets and payment schemes," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(6), pages 1209-1218, April.
    5. Bentham, Jeremy, 1781. "An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number bentham1781.
    6. Martinez-Alier, Joan & Munda, Giuseppe & O'Neill, John, 1998. "Weak comparability of values as a foundation for ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 277-286, September.
    7. Spash, Clive L., 2000. "Ecosystems, contingent valuation and ethics: the case of wetland re-creation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(2), pages 195-215, August.
    8. Boyd, James & Banzhaf, Spencer, 2007. "What are ecosystem services? The need for standardized environmental accounting units," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(2-3), pages 616-626, August.
    9. Chan, Kai M.A. & Satterfield, Terre & Goldstein, Joshua, 2012. "Rethinking ecosystem services to better address and navigate cultural values," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 8-18.
    10. Hein, Lars & van Koppen, Kris & de Groot, Rudolf S. & van Ierland, Ekko C., 2006. "Spatial scales, stakeholders and the valuation of ecosystem services," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 209-228, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hermelingmeier, Verena & Nicholas, Kimberly A., 2017. "Identifying Five Different Perspectives on the Ecosystem Services Concept Using Q Methodology," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 255-265.
    2. Davidson, Marc D., 2013. "On the relation between ecosystem services, intrinsic value, existence value and economic valuation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 171-177.
    3. Tim Forsyth, 2015. "Ecological Functions and Functionings: Towards a Senian Analysis of Ecosystem Services," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 46(2), pages 225-246, March.
    4. Saner, Marc A. & Bordt, Michael, 2016. "Building the consensus: The moral space of earth measurement," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 74-81.
    5. repec:eee:ecolec:v:141:y:2017:i:c:p:213-221 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Dawson, Neil & Martin, Adrian, 2015. "Assessing the contribution of ecosystem services to human wellbeing: A disaggregated study in western Rwanda," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 62-72.
    7. Rode, Julian & Le Menestrel, Marc & Cornelissen, Gert, 2015. "Can monetary valuation undermine nature conservation? Evidence from a decision experiment," UFZ Discussion Papers 9/2015, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
    8. Rode, Julian & Gómez-Baggethun, Erik & Krause, Torsten, 2015. "Motivation crowding by economic incentives in conservation policy: A review of the empirical evidence," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 270-282.
    9. Bark, Rosalind H. & Robinson, Catherine J. & Flessa, Karl W., 2016. "Tracking cultural ecosystem services: water chasing the Colorado River restoration pulse flow," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 165-172.
    10. Abson, D.J. & von Wehrden, H. & Baumgärtner, S. & Fischer, J. & Hanspach, J. & Härdtle, W. & Heinrichs, H. & Klein, A.M. & Lang, D.J. & Martens, P. & Walmsley, D., 2014. "Ecosystem services as a boundary object for sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 29-37.
    11. Rode, Julian & Wittmer, Heidi & Emerton, Lucy & Schröter-Schlaack, Christoph, 2015. "Capturing ecosystem service opportunities: A practice-oriented framework for selecting economic instruments in order to enhance biodiversity and human livelihoods," UFZ Discussion Papers 3/2015, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
    12. Loft, Lasse & Le, Dung Ngoc & Pham, Thuy Thu & Yang, Anastasia Lucy & Tjajadi, Januarti Sinarra & Wong, Grace Yee, 2017. "Whose Equity Matters? National to Local Equity Perceptions in Vietnam's Payments for Forest Ecosystem Services Scheme," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 135(C), pages 164-175.
    13. Kolinjivadi, Vijay & Gamboa, Gonzalo & Adamowski, Jan & Kosoy, Nicolás, 2015. "Capabilities as justice: Analysing the acceptability of payments for ecosystem services (PES) through ‘social multi-criteria evaluation’," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 99-113.


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