The institutionalization of ecosystem services in transnational policy networks

Daniel Suarez of the University of California, Berkeley, USA, examined the spread and uptake of ecosystem services approaches in global environmental governance.

Daniel Suarez

Daniel Suarez


My dissertation research examines the spread and uptake of ecosystem services approaches in global environmental governance. For my YSSP research, I conducted: i) an analysis of the scale and scope of profit-driven finance actually flowing into ostensibly “market-based instruments” in biodiversity conservation; iia) discourse analysis to develop a typology for understanding the political heterogeneity and evolution of ecosystem services thinking amongst conservationists; and iib) combined this discourse analysis with social network data mapping ecosystem services’ academic research network (or “epistemic community”).


i) The first project analyzes the scale and scope of profit-driven, returns-generating, environmental finance being invested in biodiversity conservation, as distinct from more established pathways of non-profit, state-led, bilateral, multilateral, and intergovernmental funding flows. I synthesize recent findings—indicating the scale and scope of global environmental finance which has actually and already been brought into being explicitly to generate profits—and place them in the political, ethical, cultural, and historical context, connecting them to critical scholarship and ongoing policy debates over the implications of ecosystem services. ii) The second project develops a typology of the different ways in which ecosystem services valuation is being envisioned by conservationists (in terms of arguments pro/con; its appropriate uses/misuses; and the political agendas it can be used to articulate). This project consists of two stages. The first (iia) uses primary documents (academic and policy literature on ecosystem services; transcripts from semi-structured key informant interviews; transcripts from event ethnographies conducted at major international environmental meetings) to systematically parse the distinct meanings, purposes, and politics contained in “ecosystem services” discourse. The second (iib, ongoing) stage, involves formal content analysis of texts published in the journals with highest output of articles on ecosystem services, specifically, those solicited as opinion (i.e., “opinion,” “commentary,” “editorial,” “policy forum,” etc.) to track the relative frequency of occurrences of different meanings, purposes, and politics expressed through ecosystem services over time using the qualitative data analysis software, Prospero. Finally, this content analysis is combined with bibliometric co-publication social network data collected through WebOS to show how these different visions for ecosystem services map on to different groups of ecosystem services researchers.

Results & Conclusions

i) There is very little profit-driven, returns-generating finance actually flowing into biodiversity conservation. State-driven, bi/multilateral funding streams remain overwhelmingly dominant. This suggests a mismatch between the market rhetoric used to frame biodiversity conservation projects and the actual funding strategies used to finance them. While biodiversity conservation projects are increasingly advertised (and criticized) as becoming a “business,” biodiversity conservation has not (yet) been hardwired to actually function like one. In ii) I developed a typology highlighting different applications (i.e., value recognition, value demonstration, value capture, commodification), and political registers (neoliberal, reformist, radical) of ecosystem services valuation. While the ecosystem services framework is often characterized as engendering “market solutions.” its discourse is much more heterogeneous and remains a site of ongoing struggle between different actors vying to direct what ecosystem services means, does, and becomes.


Joanne Bayer and Wei Liu, Risk, Policy and Vulnerability, IIASA


Daniel Suarez of the University of California, Berkeley, USA, is a Canadian citizen. He was funded by IIASA’s US National Member Organization and worked in the Risk, Policy and Vulnerability (RPV) Program during the YSSP.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.

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Last edited: 30 September 2015

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