Abstract: Scoping report on wider ecosystem services benefits arising from mitigation actions
REFRESH seeks to support the design cost-effective adaptation and mitigation strategies for freshwaters to comply with the Water Framework (WFD) and Habitats Directives (HD). To improve the likelihood of successful implementation of such strategies it is important to flag the wider benefits that mitigation actions to improve the water status generate. This report discusses the role that these wider benefits play in the economic analysis of these mitigation actions, notably in the analysis of disproportionality. A review of the existing scientific literature has proved that there is a considerable range of wider benefits associated with the implementation of measures to improve water quality, although evidence is skewed towards certain specific measures (e.g. buffer strips) while there is much less information on others. Most of the evidence is based on modelling approaches that are subject to some degree of uncertainty. Biodiversity, diffuse pollution, carbon storage, flow regulation and soil erosion control are the most commonly identified additional benefits from the literature. There is also evidence on the existence of less tangible benefits such education, cultural and amenity values.
A combination of expert consultation and stakeholder participation has been used to identify the wider benefits of measures to improve the water status in six case study catchments. It was decided that wider benefits would not be flagged 'in isolation', but linked to the identification of cost-bearers and beneficiaries associated with the mitigation/adaptation measures under consideration. Hence, an additional task of these workshops was to identify these cost-bearers and beneficiaries.
Results indicate that identified costs and cost-bearers were mostly specific to the chosen mitigation measures and activities associated with them, while benefits and beneficiaries largely seem context-specific. Also, as might have been expected, costs of protection measures are borne upstream and benefits are enjoyed downstream. Rather few anthropogenic sources of pressures exist, affecting the welfare of a rather large number of people.
Costs and cost-bearers identified and classified as important by local stakeholders include increased farm production costs and reduced yields, but also other sectors such as quarrying, fisheries and forestry. Water and drainage/sewage treatment authorities were also noted as significant cost-bearers in some catchments, while private households were expected to bear costs associated with septic tank management. Benefits and beneficiaries identified correspond to a rather wider range than that associated with costs and cost-bearers. Recreational benefits were identified in all case studies and linked to economic welfare. Biodiversity benefits were also identified including those associated with species populations and wildlife health. Finally, an improvement of the quality of life was identified.
Regarding proportionality, it was argued that costs are more concrete and short term, while benefits were more abstract, subjective and longer term. In some cases this led to difficulties in the comparison of costs and benefits. However, there was a general opinion that benefits outweigh costs, despite their long term and “uncertain” nature.
The wider benefits identified were mostly non-water in nature and these that were linked with water were not necessarily exclusively so. The latter included biodiversity conservation, soil conservation and increase of amenity and aesthetic values. Non-water benefits quoted included improvements in human health and well being, gains in economic activity (including employment), educational resources and changes in attitudes towards environmental sustainability, and food security, but also pest control, climate change, retention of nutrients and organic material, air filtering, improvement of pollination, and generally, reduced environmental impacts.
We conclude that this exercise led to inference on the existence of a significant range of wider benefits associated with mitigation measures, which target the improvement of water quality. The existence of such benefits should play a fair role and be acknowledged in any holistic analysis of interventions to maintain water qualities to support sustainable and multifunctional management of European water catchments. Further, the link between these benefits and, rather complex factors such as perceptions on the state of the environment, development strategy capacity at the local level and economic factors influencing productive behaviour should be taken into account when mitigation and adaptation actions are designed and implemented, in order to enhance policy efficacy. Finally, with the exception of the Louros case study, wider benefits identified further support REFRESH findings related to the existence of proportionality and confirm that the chosen mitigation/adaptation measures would generate social benefits
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