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National Ecosystem Services Classification System (NESCS): Framework Design and Policy Application
Landers, D. National Ecosystem Services Classification System (NESCS): Framework Design and Policy Application. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/800/R-15/002, 2015.
The National Ecosystem Services Classification System (NESCS) provides a framework for connecting final ecosystem goods and services to economic goods and services, thereby tracing the relationships, or flows of final ecosystem services, between the natural environment and human well-being. NESCS appears to be unique in its ability to directly link ecosystem services to existing categories within a national accounting framework. NESCS is useful for EPA program offices, such as OW and OAR, who need to identify/project relevant changes in flows of final ecosystem services from regulatory action, but also beyond, to public or private decision makers interested in such flows or changes.
Understanding the ways in which ecosystems provide flows of “services” to humans is critical for decision making in many contexts; however, relationships between natural and human systems are complex. A well-defined framework for classifying ecosystem services is essential for systematically identifying and tracing these relationships. The National Ecosystem Services Classification System (NESCS) exists to help standardize the process of identifying ecosystem services that humans use or appreciate. Primarily, NESCS provides a framework to support the analysis of human welfare impacts from policy-induced changes to ecosystems, such as cost-benefit analyses of environmental regulations. Measuring the welfare impacts of alternative environmental policy or natural resource management scenarios typically entails three main steps: identifying, quantifying, and (as feasible) valuing changes in ecosystems and their contributions to human well-being. Supporting this first step—identifying ecosystem service changes—thus provides a foundation for the subsequent quantification and valuation steps. NESCS is not an accounting system, but it is designed to support comprehensive and systematic accounting of changes in ecosystem services. The conceptual framework for NESCS employs principles underlying existing classification and accounting systems for economic goods and services. As others have done using these economic principles (e.g., Boyd and Banzhaf, 2007), NESCS draws a key distinction between intermediate and final services, to avoid double-counting services in economic or environmental accounting applications. Consequently, NESCS focuses on flows of final ecosystem services (FFES), the direct contributions made by nature to human production processes, or to an individual’s well-being. NESCS identifies FFES by linking the ecological systems that supply final ecosystem services with the human systems that demand them, including market-sector producers that use outputs of nature as inputs for economic goods and services, non-market-sector households that directly use or appreciate nature’s outputs, and public sector entities that directly use these outputs to produce public goods and services. To uniquely identify and classify FFES, the NESCS structure comprises four classification groups: 1) environmental classes, where each sub-class is a type of physical place with known biophysical characteristics, that contains or produces “end-products;” 2) classes of ecological end-products, which are the biophysical components of nature directly used or appreciated by humans; 3) classes of direct human uses (extractive, in situ, or non-use appreciation) of end-products; and 4) classes of direct human users of end-products. Each unique combination of classes (or subclasses) from across these four groups defines a potential FFES, that is, a distinct pathway linking a particular ecosystem to a particular type of use by a human user.This structure and the criteria for using it are the research results. NESCS appears to be unique in its ability to directly link ecosystem services to existing categories within a national accounting framework.This makes NESCS potentially useful for EPA program offices who need to identify/project relevant changes in FFES from regulatory action, but also beyond, to public or private decision makers interested in such flows or changes – including other government agencies and entities from the local to international scale, and non-governmental organizations or industries. NESCS does not internally provide its own metrics, ecological production functions, or valuation tools, but is designed to be flexible and modular to meet a range of identification needs within larger ecosystem services assessment efforts.