Ecosystem Approach

Ecosystem Approach Sourcebook - Case-Study Details

1. Project Details
Author or Responsible Organization Prof Roy Haines-Young; PD Dr Marion Potschin & Duncan Cheshire. Centre for Environmental Management, University of Nottingham
Project Title Defining and Identifying Environmental Limits for Sustainable Development: A Scoping Study
Date of Publication
Project Status Completed
Project Start Date
Project End Date
Funding Source
2. Background to Project
Project Issue/Problem Statement If the goals of sustainable development are to be achieved then we need to understand environmental limits and thresholds. In this study we review current scientific thinking on these topics and trace the implications of recent work for policies related to the protection of natural resources and the promotion of sustainable patterns of consumption and production in the UK.
Project Description This study collated existing knowledge on environmental limits/thresholds in order to: outline how environmental limits are identified and defined in terms of scientific and social/cultural criteria by Defra and external stakeholders; assess the robustness of the evidence used in the derivation of environmental limits; identify current thinking on the application of environmental limits in policy-making and how Defra and the Government more generally use limits; and recommend how Defra should define and apply environmental limits and thresholds.
Conclusions Several key conclusions emerge from the study: 􀂃 Although the terms ‘limits’ and ‘thresholds’ have been used in different ways in different areas of science, for future policy debates it is important to distinguish between them and to be consistent in the way they are used. We suggest that the notion of an environmental limit is relevant to all natural resource systems, whether or not they show a threshold response under external pressure. Limits are most usefully defined in terms of the point or range of conditions beyond which the benefits derived from a natural resource system are judged unacceptable or insufficient. 􀂃 Given natural variability and the uncertainties that exist in our understanding of the behaviour of natural resource systems, it is wise to adopt a ‘precautionary approach’ to the definition of environmental limits. Thus while we may suggest some final limit beyond which significant harm to the system will occur, notions of wise management might suggest that we should be prepared to sustain the system at some level above this minimum. Thus different types of environmental limit might be defined. For example, in the fisheries literature, ‘precautionary limits’ or ‘precautionary reference points’ are set to ensure that irreversible harm does not occur to populations of economically or ecologically important species. 􀂃 While the identification of an environmental limit is important in terms of resolving questions about the sustainability of a natural resource system, it should not always be used to set management standards. Fundamentally the idea of a limit involves setting a maximum level of damage to a natural resource system that we are prepared to tolerate or accept. In management terms we might prefer to maintain the system in ‘good’ condition, and therefore specify management targets that are well above the agreed limit. Thus our study suggests that discussions about environmental limits are part of wider debates about environmental targets. Identification of an environmental limit can be useful in helping to justify where management targets should be set.
3. Sectors and Biomes
4. Tools and Approaches
5. Issues
Issues   Relevance
Ecosystem Approach 3-High
Identification, Monitoring and Indicators 3-High
6. Ecosystem Approach
Principles and Operational Guidance   Relevance
(Only if NOT relevant)
Principle 7: The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales 2-Medium
7. Lessons Learned and the Outcomes
Lessons Learned Although the evidence base for environmental limits needs developing across all the thematic areas considered, in most cases there is sufficient understanding to begin discussing of what kinds of limits might apply for the protection of natural resources. We recommend that work should be initiated to develop guidelines for decision makers at national, regional and local scales to help ensure that development occurs within environmental limits.
Other Information Defra should consider initiating a ‘Millennium Assessment’ for the UK that can serve as a strategic framework for discussion about environmental limits and as a stimulus to developing the evidence base that underpins policy. Defra should consider initiating a series of pilot studies which demonstrate how questions of the value can be resolved in relation to assessing the consequences of exceeding an environmental limit. Defra needs to give clear guidance on how development within limits might be accomplished. Thus the Department’s website could provide: o Examples of ‘best practice’ and reviews of the current thinking about limits in the main natural resource protection areas; o A checklist describing the types of question that need to be asked so that thinking about limits is included in decisions affecting natural resource systems at regional and local levels. These materials should also set out how discussions about limits can be built into the existing approaches to Strategic Environmental Assessment and Sustainability Impact Assessment, and how it can be included in cost-benefit studies. In the medium term, Defra should make a much stronger link between the issues covered in the areas of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and natural resource protection. Closer linkage between the consumption and production issues covered and the costs and benefits of better protection of natural resources and the ecosystem goods and services associated with them, would be anappropriate way forward.
8. References
References HAINES-YOUNG, R.; POTSCHIN, M. and D. CHESHIRE (2006): Defining and identifying Environmental Limits for Sustainable Development. A Scoping Study. Final Full Technical Report to Defra, 103 pp + appendix 77 pp, Project Code NR0102.
9. Contact Details
Contact Person Miss Amanda Gregory
Organization Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Address Monkstone House
City Road
Postal Code PE1 1JY
City Peterborough
ZIP/State/Province Cambs
Telephone 0044 1733 866898
E-mail Address