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Interview with Anne Teller, chair of the EC Working Group on Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES)

September 23, 2013

In March 2010, EU Heads of States and Governments adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 with the overarching target: “Halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss”

Action 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 calls on Member States to map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services in their national territory by 2014. To assist in this task the European Commission set up a Working Group on Mapping and Assessment on Ecosystems and their Services (MAES).

Anne TellerThe BioFreshblog asked Anne Teller, the EC policy officer chairing MAES, about the role and activities of MAES and her thoughts on the efficacy of ecosystem services as a policy frame:

BioFreshBlog: How is MAES constituted and what does it aim to do?

Anne Teller:  In 2011 The European Council [the institution that together with the European Parliament defines the general political direction and priorities of the EU] reiterated the importance of mapping and assessment of the state of ecosystems and their services. Subsequently, the European Parliament in its resolution on the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, recognised that biodiversity and ecosystem services provide significant non-monetized benefits to industries and other economic actors and specifically stressed the need for setting a baseline against which restoration progress can be measured. The work is carried out by the Member States with the assistance of the European Commission. To operationalize this action, the Common Implementation Framework (CIF) – which governs delivery of the Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 – includes a working group that coordinates the work and agrees methods and scope. This is MAES.

The EU Co-ordination Group for Biodiversity and Nature (CGBN) made up of representatives from Member states, stakeholders and technical staff from the Biodiversity and Nature Units within DG Environment is overseeing the delivery from the working group and provide the supporting material for meetings of the Nature Directors from the Members States. They then agree the technical orientations of MAES, consider its recommendations, and if these are outside their policy’s competencies forward them to the relevant committees or working parties (e.g. of the European Council).

BFB: Developing a common conceptual framework and a toolkit for mapping and assessing ecosystem service across Europe and across scale sounds like quite an under-taking. What are the main conceptual challenges you are facing in this endeavour? More specifically do freshwater systems pose particular challenges?

AT: One of the main challenges of the common conceptual framework MAES is to ensure an optimum level of consistency of methods and typologies across scales while being realistic about the degree of convergence that is achievable in the 28 Member States. Also the relation between biodiversity, ecosystem condition, function, and ecosystem services is incompletely understood and requires multidisciplinary research. A particular challenge for freshwater is that it is a dynamic system providing ecosystem services that vary in space and time and the analytical framework is therefore difficult to apply.

BFB: The EC is noted for the openness of its policy making process and the involvement of interest groups in policy committees and working groups. How do you assure that the composition of MAES combines technical expertise and rigorous policy analysis?

AT: The membership of this hands-on working group is limited in number (i.e. 1 expert per Member State, a couple of scientific experts, and half a dozen of key stakeholders who are actively working on these issues and can contribute to the work of the group, and representatives from EU institutions – the European Environment Agency and its Topic Centres, the Commission Services and in particular the Joint Research Centre. The nature of the discussions is predominantly technical.

Members have been appointed by the official representatives of the Co-ordination Group for Biodiversity and Nature (CGBN) which is the overseeing forum in which wider policy issues are discussed. More information on this can be found on the Commission’s web-site. In addition, thematic workshops (e.g. marine) are organized to allow for more in-depth discussion with key sectors, experts and stakeholders.

MAES docBFB: Your excellent discussion paper published in April 2013 noted the need to engage scientists. How do you think the freshwater biodiversity science community could best contribute to the ecosystem mapping and assessment of ecosystem services across the EU?

AT: The involvement of scientists is promoted through different channels. DG Research & Innovation is actively participating in the MAES Working Group and is organizing science policy dialogues between policy makers and coordinators of relevant EU-funded research projects. There are dedicated MAES Pilot groups, including on Freshwater, in which involvement is on voluntary basis and includes scientists. Freshwater biodiversity science could best contribute to MAES by delivering expertise, data and models that could substantially improve the common framework.

BFB: We are all aware that The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project and reports have been influential in raising the policy profile and influence of the concept of ecosystem services. However, what is less clear is how this translation or adoption process happened. Please could you provide an insider perspective.

AT: TEEB is not about research but is already a synthesis of knowledge and experience on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, based on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. It includes specific reports for policy-makers, local policy planners and business that already translate concepts into concrete mechanisms to take ecosystem services values into account in decision-making and in turning biodiversity risk into business opportunity. The success of the TEEB approach is that it is placing ecosystem services into a policy context, which is key if we want policy to change.

BFB: Recent posts and comments on this blog reflect concerns that rather than adding value to established conservation approaches, the concept of ecosystem services is over-riding and marginalizing older rationales and approaches. Do you think such worries are valid?

AT: Yes and no. The concept of ecosystem services is useful and complementary to other approaches such as biodiversity and nature conservation. It is by no means a surrogate. It can be a bridge-building concept that should be used opportunistically. We must not forget that “for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” (H.L. Mencken).

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