How should local communities think about the role of ecosystem services in supporting human wellbeing, particularly in the face of climate change and urban development? This column outlines the lessons from the OpenNESS project, which brought together 27 place-based case studies over a four-year period. The project provides tested, practical and tailored solutions for integrating ecosystem services into land, water and urban management and decision-making at the local level.
In Andhra Pradesh, East Godavari District of India, people in mangrove areas were struggling with the potential loss of biodiversity that provides them with essential ecosystem services. At the same time, on the eastern side of Helsinki, Finland, people had become aware that the boreal forest area close to their homes was to be transformed into a dense suburb, Sibbesborg, with more than 10,000 inhabitants.
These two stories come from totally different parts of the world, with different social and ecological contexts. Yet they have something important in common. In both areas, decision-makers as well as local people are aware that the changes that are happening now and those in prospect present opportunities as well as risks for the area and its inhabitants. The crucial issue is to have a planning process that takes account of the values and aspirations of stakeholders in addition to ecological and economic concerns.
The OpenNESS project – Operationalisation of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services – brought together 27 place-based case studies in which ecosystem services could play a key role in supporting human wellbeing and ecological integrity, and contributing for example, to the management of climate change. In each of these cases, approaches, methods and tools were introduced, co-developed and tested in close and continuous collaboration between project researchers and case study advisory boards, which included the key local actors – from planners to businesses; from decision-makers to citizens.
The Andhra Pradesh village and the Sibbesborg suburb were among these cases. As in all cases, the development was carried out in close collaboration with local actors. The transdisciplinary and deliberative collaboration not only led to positive discussions, new friends and enhanced goodwill: they also generated open ideas, concrete suggestions and consensus on the taking of difficult decisions.
In Andhra Pradesh, the approach developed by the Indian Institute of Bio Social Research and Development (the local OpenNESS partner) is called “Landscape Conservation and Management for Sustainable Livelihood”. It was accepted by the Government of West Bengal at a meeting on 13 March 2017.
As a result, instead of a piecemeal approach by individual public departments, the plan is for the convergence of activities of ths 10 line departments in selected landscapes under the umbrella program of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna, with agriculture as the nodal department. Following an order issued on 27 March 2017, a capacity-building strategy was planned in a deliberative way both for the community and the line departments for convergence through “training need assessment and analysis”.
In Sibbesborg, the contribution from OpenNESS and its researchers was integrated into the local municipal planning process. The key achievement was that the planners took the ecosystem services approach as an initial part of their planning process. In particular, the ESTIMAP model was used to assess the most important parts in the area from the perspective of ecosystem services.
The structured discussions among various stakeholders brought plans for green care business that exists in the area and should be maintained to support the well-being of people and to provide livelihoods for those in the business. As Sibbesborg is part of a large municipality, the positive and negative lessons learned from the planning process have great potential to influence processes in other parts of the municipality, as well as elsewhere in Finland and beyond.