Weaving Ecosystem Services into Impact Assessment — a report by World Resources Institute

This report intro­duces the Ecosys­tem Ser­vices Review for Impact Assess­ment (ESR for IA), a six step method to address project impacts and depen­den­cies on ecosys­tem ser­vices as part of the envi­ron­men­tal and social impact assess­ment process. The steps build on assess­ments rou­tinely con­ducted by social and envi­ron­men­tal prac­ti­tion­ers to bet­ter reflect the inter­de­pen­dence between project, ecosys­tems, ecosys­tem ser­vices, and people.

Prac­ti­tion­ers seek­ing more detailed guid­ance on imple­ment­ing the ESR for IA can con­sult the asso­ci­ated Tech­ni­cal Appen­dix, which will walk them through each step and sub-step using an illus­tra­tive case study.

Read more here and find the exec­u­tive sum­mary copied below.

For your con­ve­nience find the pdf of the report and the tech­ni­cal appen­dix here:

Weav­ing ecosys­tem ser­vices into impact assessment

weav­ing ecosys­tem ser­vices into impact assess­ment tech­ni­cal appendix

Exec­u­tive sum­mary

The ser­vices pro­vided by ecosys­tems play a vital role in human well-being. Although some ecosys­tem ser­vices are eas­ily rec­og­nized— food, tim­ber, and fresh­wa­ter, for exam­ple— oth­ers may be less appar­ent. Ecosys­tems con­trol ero­sion; reduce the dam­age caused by nat­ural dis­as­ters; and reg­u­late our air, water, and soil qual­ity. A reduc­tion or loss of any of these ser­vices and the ben­e­fits they pro­vide can have socio-economic ram­i­fi­ca­tions that rever­ber­ate beyond envi­ron­men­tal damages.

Stan­dard envi­ron­men­tal and social impact assess­ments (ESIAs) do not specif­i­cally account for a project’s impacts on ecosys­tem ser­vice ben­e­fits. As a result, assess­ments might over­look stake­hold­ers who are vul­ner­a­ble to ecosys­tem change, or miss some of the harm­ful social con­se­quences of a project’s envi­ron­men­tal effects. Inte­grat­ing ecosys­tem ser­vices into impact assess­ments results in a more com­pre­hen­sive and real­is­tic assess­ment of a project’s imme­di­ate and long-term impacts.

Respond­ing to the need to iden­tify and plan for these impacts, ESIA stan­dards have started to inte­grate ecosys­tem ser­vices into project impact assess­ments. The Inter­na­tional Finance Corporation’s (IFC) per­for­mance stan­dards reflect this trend: as of 2012, IFC-financed projects are required to pre­serve the ben­e­fits from ecosys­tem ser­vices. Going a step beyond project impacts, the IFC also requires that the envi­ron­men­tal and social risks and impacts iden­ti­fi­ca­tion process con­sid­ers a project’s depen­dence on ecosys­tem ser­vices. Just as devel­op­ment projects can jeop­ar­dize the ben­e­fits that flow from ecosys­tem ser­vices, changes in ecosys­tems can endan­ger project outcomes.

Until now, there has been lit­tle guid­ance for ESIA prac­ti­tion­ers on how to inte­grate ecosys­tem ser­vices into their impact assess­ments. The World Resources Insti­tute, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with ESIA prac­ti­tion­ers, devel­oped the “Ecosys­tem Ser­vices Review for Impact Assess­ment” (ESR for IA) to fill this gap. The ESR for IA is a struc­tured method­ol­ogy that guides prac­ti­tion­ers through six steps to incor­po­rate ecosys­tem ser­vices into ESIA at the scop­ing, base­line and impact analy­sis, and mit­i­ga­tion stages.

The ESR for IA can be used for two pur­poses. First, it iden­ti­fies mea­sures to mit­i­gate project impacts on the ben­e­fits pro­vided by ecosys­tems. Sec­ond, it iden­ti­fies mea­sures to man­age oper­a­tional depen­den­cies on ecosys­tems. These goals are reflected in the ESR for IA’s four outputs:

  • A list of ecosys­tem ser­vices, for inclu­sion in the ESIA terms of reference;
  • Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of pri­or­ity ecosys­tem ser­vices to be con­sid­ered and stake­hold­ers to be engaged in fur­ther stages of the ESIA process, for inclu­sion in the ESIA report;
  • Assess­ment of project impacts and depen­den­cies on pri­or­ity ecosys­tem ser­vices, for inclu­sion in the ESIA report; and
  • Mea­sures to mit­i­gate project impacts and man­age project depen­den­cies on pri­or­ity ecosys­tem ser­vices, for inclu­sion in the envi­ron­men­tal and social man­age­ment plans.

The ESR for IA, rather than replac­ing the envi­ron­men­tal and social assess­ments that make up the stan­dard ESIA process, com­ple­ments them with an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, inte­grated frame­work. By focus­ing atten­tion on the socio-economic dimen­sions of a project’s envi­ron­men­tal impacts, the ESR for IA can cap­ture the unan­tic­i­pated costs and ben­e­fits of projects more fully than a stan­dard ESIA, and can iden­tify stake­hold­ers who might oth­er­wise be missed.

WRI and ESIA prac­ti­tion­ers road-tested the ESR for IA by apply­ing the method­ol­ogy to projects that had already under­gone stan­dard envi­ron­men­tal and social assess­ments. The results were promis­ing. The ESR for IA revealed over­looked social impli­ca­tions of envi­ron­men­tal impacts, exposed oper­a­tional risks result­ing from ecosys­tem change, and iden­ti­fied addi­tional mea­sures for the envi­ron­men­tal and social man­age­ment plans.

Weav­ing Ecosys­tem Ser­vices Into Impact Assess­ment: A Step-by-Step Method is an abbre­vi­ated ver­sion of a longer WRI report that pro­vides detailed, tech­ni­cal instruc­tions for ESIA prac­ti­tion­ers. This con­densed ver­sion is tai­lored to a broader audi­ence, includ­ing project devel­op­ers who do not con­duct ESIAs them­selves, but nev­er­the­less need to under­stand the process. We encour­age project devel­op­ers and ESIA prac­ti­tion­ers to share their expe­ri­ences using the ESR for IA with oth­ers, for exam­ple, through LinkedIn’s Busi­ness & Ecosys­tem Ser­vices Pro­fes­sion­als and Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Assess­ment groups. The lessons learned from their imple­men­ta­tion can inform the emerg­ing com­mu­nity of prac­tice around ecosys­tem ser­vices in ESIA and con­tribute to refine­ments in the method­ol­ogy down the road.

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