5 November 2018: The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) released a study that showcases the application of payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes to forests. The publication also provides an assessment of the design, governance and funding sources of various payment for watershed services (PWS) schemes.

The study titled, ‘Forests and Water: Valuation and Payments for Forest Ecosystem Services,’ aims to improve understanding about how PES schemes can be applied to forests, including forests’ hydrological functions, to provide mutual benefits for humans and the environment. Forest ecosystems provide erosion control, regulation of surface water flow and water purification services, among others, that help to optimize watershed services. However, the UNECE argues that the “services forest ecosystems provide for water quality are largely underestimated.”

The study includes a database of 229 case studies on water-related payment for forest ecosystem services schemes across the UNECE region’s 23 member States. North America has 101 active forest-related PWS schemes and the EU has 70 active schemes. A case study from the Chon-Aksuu watershed in the Issyk-Kul region, Kyrgyzstan, illustrates how public servants, local residents and school students collaborated to address overgrazed pasture and degraded forests in their area, which had contributed to erosion, increased suspended sediments in rivers and lower water quality. The stakeholders collaborated to increase capacity to manage existing natural resources and reforested 14 hectares of birch and spruce trees in mountain areas through a payment for forest ecosystem services scheme.

Services forest ecosystems provide for water quality are largely underestimated.

On PWS schemes, the analysis finds that schemes based on a partnership model are more successful in ensuring that forest owners and managers engage in these schemes long-term. PWS partnership schemes are also more successful in increasing organizational resilience to changing political support and in accessing multiple sources of funding. PWS schemes can also provide a range of co-benefits, including biodiversity conservation, carbon mitigation and social benefits.

The report presents a range of recommendations, such as promoting a legal framework that provides guidance and support for forest-related PWS schemes and defining sound monitoring systems by identifying clear proxy indicators and ecosystem service metrics. The report further suggests focusing on ecosystem service bundling for cost effectiveness, in recognition that forests can provide multiple related services combined as a single credit. Additional recommendations include: strengthening scientific knowledge, technical competencies and skills; establishing platforms for mutual understanding of PES principles and practices; and taking into account the structural factors that influence PES outcomes.

Deputy Chief of the joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section, Ekrem Yazici, stressed that the “sustainable management of forests and water supplies [is] crucial for the long-term success of all SDGs.” SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 15 (life on land) explicitly recognize the linkages between water and forests. [Publication: Forests and Water: Valuation and Payments for Forest Ecosystem Services] [Report Webpage] [UNECE Press Release]