Section 1: Introduction

Ecosystem goods and services (EGS) are fundamental to human activity. Farmers, foresters, fishers and many others harvest nature’s bounty, while others make a living transforming and selling these goods. Ecosystem services provide social and health benefits such as education or recreation opportunities—for example, the enjoyment that we get from taking a walk in the woods or parks. Natural ecosystem structures and functions produce goods and services that benefit people—ecosystems produce the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and recycle the nutrients that allow all things to grow.

Impacts from human activity on land and in the water can influence ecosystems profoundly. Climate change, ocean acidification, permafrost melting, habitat loss, eutrophication, stormwater runoff, air pollution, contaminants, and invasive species are among many problems facing ecosystems. The cumulative effects of these problems, as well as numerous other pressures, can have serious impacts on ecosystem functions and the provision of EGS. Understanding the contributions that these services make to the well-being of those who benefit from them—the beneficiaries—is important for informed decision-making. Similarly, information on the availability or degradation of EGS is needed to properly assess and design policy responses to address ecosystem conservation, restoration and sustainable use (Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1: Measuring Ecosystem Goods and Services conceptual framework

Human Activity and the Environment 2013: Measuring ecosystem goods and services in Canada reports on the results achieved during a two year project to find and develop information on ecosystem goods and services. The report is organized as follows: Section 2: Ecosystem accounting reviews concepts relevant to the development of experimental ecosystem accounts and case studies presented in the report. Section 3: Ecosystems and their goods and services at the national level presents initial broad scale results. Section 4: Thousand Islands National Park case study brings together some of the concepts presented in previous sections, showing how ecosystem accounting can be used in local area case studies. Section 5: Moving forward—a research agenda highlights selected topics that could be developed further to provide a better account of the status and trends of ecosystems and their goods and services over time. Section 6: Appendices provides more detailed information on some of the above topics.

This report presents preliminary results from an interdepartmental project on Measuring Ecosystem Goods and Services (MEGS). The objective of MEGS was to scope out the requirements for producing and analyzing comprehensive statistics on ecosystems and their goods and services. The focus was to build the infrastructure, develop, test and apply classifications, quality measures and valuation methods to further the development of ecosystem accounts (Textbox 1).

Textbox 1: Measuring Ecosystem Goods and Services (MEGS)—the project:

In 2011, Statistics Canada received federal funding to develop experimental ecosystem accounts with the specific objective of supporting policy needs related to the valuation of ecosystem goods and services.

The MEGS project was a collaborative effort between several partner federal departments: Statistics Canada and Environment Canada—the project co-leads—as well as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada and Policy Horizons Canada. The objectives were to research, consolidate data and build knowledge on ecosystems in Canada; to study alternatives for assessing and tracking ecosystem quality; and to assemble the information required to support the process of valuation. These objectives were accomplished by creating spatial standards and classifications, standardizing existing spatial data, developing pilot ecosystem accounts, and investigating methods for valuation of ecosystem goods and services.

The MEGS project developed a statistical infrastructure to support the study of ecosystems, consolidated some existing data and established methods that will pave the way for future work in this area. A major output is the MEGS geodatabase, which integrates various datasets to represent land cover and land use in Canada. Initial priority was given to spatial time series data that were available nationally, although some emphasis was placed on acquiring and integrating lower level datasets where they were more appropriate. Coarse national datasets may not be appropriate in regional and local scale analysis, such as the case study on the Thousand Islands National Park presented in this report, which used higher resolution data for its land cover analysis. Progress has also been achieved in developing quality measures and advancing knowledge on monetary and non-monetary valuation.

The project team is monitoring the development of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA): Experimental Ecosystem Accounting, which will become a guidance manual for ecosystem accounts once finalized and adopted. 1  Results presented in this report are part of an experimental accounting exercise that is compatible with SEEA’s objectives and guidelines.

Accounting for EGS is a relatively new, but growing, field of inquiry. Major challenges related to defining goods and services, understanding and tracking the biophysical properties and structures that produce the good and services, measuring where goods and services are generated and used, and valuing the services, are recognized by environmental accountants, ecologists and economists alike. However, a high degree of interjurisdictional and interdisciplinary collaboration exists to develop common standards, definitions, tools, methods and classifications, including ongoing work within the framework of the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (UN SEEA). 2 

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