An ecosystem service is any benefit that humans get from nature

Ecosystems services offer benefits such as the pollination of crops, clean air, a reduction in extreme weather, human mental and physical well-being, wood for construction, fossil fuels, fresh water, tourism, science, education, recycling, fertilizer, carbon capture, outdoor sports, lakes, flood protection, hydroelectric power, and decomposition of wastes.

It’s hard to put a value on every way that rocks, forests, beaches, woods, plants and animals help our lives. But we can put an economic value on the combined benefits of the world’s ecosystems. All ecosystem services contribute an estimated $125 trillion to $140 trillion a year to the economy.

The complexity of ecosystems means that we don’t always understand what parts of nature’s tapestry are the most important for our lives or for the future of the planet, and we don’t understand the consequences of losing parts of nature.

In a landmark 2019 report, the International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services said that one million species are in imminent danger of being lost. The consequences of such a disruption of nature will be severe.

What causes pressure on nature and biodiversity?

Land use is one of the big pressures on nature and biodiversity today, when green areas become construction sites, for example. Other pressures result from a growing population, expanding urban areas, and a throw-away culture or a preference for single-use products.

Climate change is going to have a bigger impact on nature in the coming decades. It’s going to be a major driver of extinction, because temperature changes are a danger to ecosystems on every continent.

Land degradation needs to change – and soon. Twenty-three percent of our land is experiencing reduced productivity, and this percentage is increasing. Intensive exploitation of soil has created high agricultural yield, but it is hurting the life of soil. It is also releasing carbon back into the atmosphere.

Protecting nature is not always at odds with business and the economy. Commercial forestry can support sustainable landscapes and foster rural economic growth and employment. For example, the biomass from forests is an important renewable fuel resource.

What is afforestation?

Afforestation is the planting of trees to create forests in areas that have no tree cover. This includes areas that naturally have no trees or land where trees were removed for development purposes.

In the European Union, wooded areas account for over 40% of the land. In recent decades, afforestation has increased this area by about 0.4% a year. Only 60% of the annual forest growth is harvested in the European Union.