China Aims For Scale, Scope, And ReachIn Payments For Ecosystem Services

Water May 17, 2013
Genevieve Bennett

China’s eco-compensation programs are among the most comprehensive payments for ecosystem services on the planet, but delegates to the 18th Katoomba Meeting in Beijing say they must reach more people in more segments if they are to deliver lasting environmental benefits.

Click to hear closing remarks from Katoomba XVIII.

16 May 2013 | BEIJING | People’s Republic of China | The hardest part about dealing with externalities isn’t where they begin, but where they end – as Niu Chonguan pointed out at the public segment of Katoomba XVIII: Forests, Water, and People, which took place here on Thursday.

“Everyone agrees that the beneficiary pays,” said Niu, who is Deputy Director General of the Department of Soil and Water Conservation at the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources. “But beneficiaries are not just downstream users. They’re also those benefiting from reduced flood risks or reduced disasters from sandstorms.”

Moving forward, he said, the question is whether these groups should be enticed to pay as well and how we might quantify the relative share of benefits of each. It’s a question that cut to the heart of the whopping 25 first-day presentations, because eco-compensation levels for soil & water conservation payments are supposed to be set based on valuation of ecosystem services and resulting ecological and downstream improvements, instead of on the cost of intervention, which is how most watershed investments tracked by Ecosystem Marketplace are calculated.

The same day, Zhang Qingfeng of the Asian Development Bank highlighted the need to bring in more private-sector investment, while several presenters highlighted the need to spread the concept institutionally.

“We’ve been talking about many of the ways to scale up – but we’re just not looking at it clearly,” said Forest Trends CEO Michael Jenkins as the day would to a close. “One of the ways is we have to get away from our own institutional silos. If we don’t collaborate, we’re still going to talking about scaling up twenty years from now.”

He echoed the sentiments of Zhang and Niu, calling for the inclusion of new beneficiaries and also of more segments of society.
“To me, it’s not just a scaling up but a scaling out,” he said. “So when we look at the whole suite of panelists that we have here – government representatives, some private sector folks, NGOs, academics, we should have had more community representatives but there are some obviously in the audience.”

The private meeting begins on Friday, and will involve smaller workshops geared towards generating specific outcomes.