© CC BY-NC-SA Dom Dada

Socio-economic approaches to measuring and protecting biodiversity

Ecosystem services ESS are co-productions of humans and ecosystems. Together they are providing the benefits humans derive from nature. Many services are at risk today, from natural and – more so – from human-made impacts. How to best analyse the process is disputed; some scholars use the conventional economic terminology and way of thinking to describe ESS as flows from a stock of natural capital, and the loss of biodiversity as an external cost which has to be internalised into the price system to end this ‘misallocation of resources’. Valuing ecosystems and their services in monetary terms is the most urgent task in this way of thinking. SERI does not subscribe to the neoclassical economics world view underpinning the capital stock approach and the monetisation of biodiversity, but suggests a multi-dimensional and transdisciplinary approach, in which monetary valuation plays a small but not irrelevant role. However, the multiplicity of values prevailing in our societies requires understanding the nature of value ( philosophy) before assessing the value of nature. We emphasise the role of agency and stakeholder participation ( stakeholder activation) and support a primacy of political decision making over market rules.


Biodiversity conservation is more than species conservation; it includes safeguarding the diversity of ecosystems, species, populations and the genetic diversity of organisms within each species. To achieve this, landscape-wide ecosystem management is required. However, this does not mean to exclude local people from landscape management decisions, or even to expel humans from the protected areas, but to support and enhance their livelihoods in co-existence with a healthy and diverse environment. This implies that the functioning of societies and economies must be adapted to the limitations set by the carrying capacity of ecosystems, while catering for human needs which is exactly the Brundtland definition of Sustainable Development.

Policy relevance

Policies to save biodiversity by setting up protected areas while permitting rather unlimited land use intensification in the area between them are not enough, as the ongoing biodiversity loss testifies: islands of biodiversity cannot survive in a biological desert of intensive agriculture challenge is far broader, requiring a fundamental, and in that sense radical change of our land use patterns and the consumption habits based on them. Conservation requires sustainable land use, reduction of material consumption (dematerialisation) and the reduction and decarbonisation of energy use. This implies far-reaching changes in the functioning of economies and society, which in turn presupposes changes of the institutional setting of our societies. The midterm review of the revised EU Biodiversity Strategy had to admit failing to stop it, as had the previous EU Strategy, indicating the need for more targeted strategies demanding changes in, fisheries, transport, spatial planning and in particular in agricultural policies – the EU CAP is a dangerous driver of biodiversity loss.

Specific contribution by SERI

SERI Germany and its members have been involved in a number of projects analysing the reasons for the erosion and loss of biological diversity, and searching for possible remedies. Our focus is not on the analysis of the status quo but on understanding the reasons for change on different levels of institutional settings. On the organisation level, agricultural administrations and planning bureaucracies play an important role; on the level of mechanisms of societal decision making, the narrow monetary thinking inherent to cost-benefit analyses is a serious obstacle to biodiversity conservation. On the level of orientations, the obsession with economic growth and the inertia of consumption patterns are undermining conservation efforts. According to our findings it is the failure to address the pressures on the mechanism level, and even more so the driving forces on the orientation level which are behind biodiversity loss. Focussing on adaptation and restoration may be important emergency measures but will not change the negative trend. Developing strategies, scenarios and indicators showing how those drivers and pressures could be reduced is at the core of our work on biodiversity.

Biodiversity projects:


There are two key reasons for framing the challenge of sustainability as one of “production-consumption” systems rather than the more conventional...

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