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The Ecosystem Approach Advanced User Guide


1. Introduction

Explanation
Management interventions in ecosystems often have unknown or unpredictable effects on other ecosystems; therefore, possible impacts need careful consideration and analysis. This may require new arrangements or ways of organization for institutions involved in decision-making to make, if necessary, appropriate compromises.

Guidelines for answering this question
Natural resource managers, decision makers and politicians should consider the possible effects that their actions could have on adjacent and downstream ecosystems (river basins and coastal zones) so that effects inside and outside the ecosystem are determined. 

Where management or use of one ecosystem has or is projected to have effects elsewhere, bring together relevant stakeholders and technical expertise to consider how best to minimize adverse consequences. Environmental impact assessment (EIAs), including strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) should be carried out for all developments taking into account all the components of biological diversity. These assessments should adequately consider the potential offsite impacts. The results of these assessments, which can also include social impact assessment, should be acted upon. When identifying existing and potential risks or threats to an ecosystem, different scales need to be considered. 

Establish and maintain national and regional monitoring systems to measure the effects of selected management actions across ecosystems (see also Task 5).

Develop specific mechanisms to address transboundary issues associated with shared ecosystems and with transboundary transfer of ecological impacts (e.g. air and water pollution).

Tools
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Policy, planning and decision making systems
Modelling
Ecological networks
Protect area system frameworks
Integrated land use planning

Further explanation
Ecosystems are not closed systems, but rather open and often connected to other ecosystems. This open structure and connectedness of ecosystems means that effects on ecosystem functioning are seldom confined to the point of impact or only to one system. In this regard it should be noted that:
The effects of management interventions, or decisions not to intervene, are therefore not confined solely to the point of impact. 
The effects between ecosystems are frequently non-linear and are likely have associated time-lags. Management systems need to be designed to cope with these issues. 
There is a need for this to reflect the fact that impacts are in both directions – into and out of a particular ecosystem. Not just adjacent and downstream, but there are other connections as well (e.g. systems linked by migratory species).

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme