Ecosystem assessments are used to appraise the state of ecosystems, the services they provide, threats they are facing, and their trends. Thus, ecosystem assessments provide a strong starting point for identifying levers of change and designing appropriate management responses towards strengthening the vitality of water-related ecosystems. This tool provides principles, guiding frameworks, and methods that can be used for ecosystem assessments so as to maintain and regain ecosystems health for sustainable development.
Water-related ecosystems possess enormous biological, social, educational and economic value (Tool C5.04). They provide a range of benefits and services such as drinking water and recreation, water for agriculture and energy, habitats for aquatic life forms, and natural solutions for water purification and climate resilience, among many other uses. Achieving lasting social and economic development thus requires the sustained provision of these services, which are derived from functional and healthy ecosystems. Recognising the importance of freshwater ecosystems for Agenda 2030, SDG target 6.6 aims specifically “to protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes”. Unfortunately, water-related ecosystems are increasingly degraded by human activities, including from pollution, water over abstraction, land encroachment – not to mention that these pressures are further exacerbated by climate change.
Ecosystem assessment is an important tool to understand the status of ecosystems and the services they provide, the threats they are facing, and levers for positive action. It gives decision makers and stakeholders the information they need to make informed choices on the use and management of ecosystems to maximize benefits and minimise negatives impacts. Key questions to consider in such an assessment include:
- What is the state of the ecosystem right now?
- Which kinds of services are provided?
- What are the stressors and threats to the ecosystem? What trends do we identify?
- Who lives in the ecosystem and which services provided by the ecosystem do they use?
- Which may be levers of change?