Applying InVEST to Decisions
Our science-policy interface tools draw on experience applying environmental services approaches worldwide to help governments, businesses, NGOs, and the general public to mainstream environmental services information into their decisions.
We work with experts in our partner sites and core partnership at The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Stanford University, along with collaborators at Duke University, World Resources Institute, Resources for the Future, Princeton University, University of Montreal and others.
Environmental Services Screening Criteria
When are environmental service approaches likely to succeed?
Together with The Nature Conservancy's environmental services team, we have developed an Environmental Services Screening Criteria Framework to assess the viability of an environmental service approach for conservation. Screening can help to evaluate key strengths, weaknesses and information gaps that need to be addressed if an environmental services approach is taken forward.
An environmental services approach can enhance conservation strategies by providing access to new sources of long-term financing, supporting greater impact at a wider scale, and opening new avenues for advancing conservation with institutions that do not traditionally consider the environment in their decision-making. However, an environmental services approach may not always be the best way to achieve conservation. Success depends on an enabling context and effective project design. It is therefore critical to screen an environmental services approach early on.
Who should use the screening criteria? Conservation practitioners interested in using an environmental services approach to help achieve conservation.
Why screen? To determine if conditions are favorable for an environmental services approach to conservation. Screening will help evaluate key strengths, weaknesses, and information gaps that need to be addressed if an environmental services approach is taken forward.
When should the screening criteria be applied? Screening should be conducted during project conceptualization and design, before significant investments have been made. The screening criteria are intended to support an informal evaluation of the opportunity, based on existing knowledge and information.
What is the next step after screening? If the screening process indicates favorable conditions for an environmental services approach, then the next step may be to seek technical assistance to support a more comprehensive feasibility assessment (in areas where the screening process identified information gaps) and project design. If only a few criteria are met, it may be worth re-considering whether to pursue an environmental services approach.
InVEST in Practice: Applying InVEST to Existing Policy Contexts
How can environmental service modeling tools, like InVEST, be applied to policy and planning most effectively?
InVEST in Practice is a series of introductory briefs to show potential InVEST users how InVEST can be applied to existing policy and planning processes.
The guidance is based on The Natural Capital Project's experiences developing and using InVEST in more than ten places around the world.
Each issue of, "InVEST in Practice," indicates how and when InVEST is likely to be helpful for each stage of a specific policy or planning context, and when it may be inappropriate.
InVEST in Practice: Strategic Environmental Assessments
SEAs are analytical and participatory approaches that aim to integrate environmental considerations into policies, plans, and programs, and to evaluate the links with economic and social considerations. SEAs are broader in scope and enable earlier and more proactive consideration of environmental considerations than Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), typically applied to projects.
Integrating environmental services and their societal values into SEA can help demonstrate the social, economic and financial reasons for environmentally sustainable policies. Considering a broad range of environmental services helps ensure an SEA includes a comprehensive and balanced assessment of environmental impacts and considers the trade-offs of alternative options.
SEAs are increasingly institutionalized within government decision-making, particularly in developed countries. With this increasing global uptake, SEA provides an existing and powerful process for embedding the scientific results of InVEST analyses in planning and policy. InVEST can help support an SEA by identifying how policies, plans and programs can meet multiple goals and guiding selection of the best alternatives.
InVEST in Practice: Marine Spatial Planning
Marine spatial planning is a process for analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives.
In the past, marine management practices have often been ineffective because they optimize for a single target species and disregard habitat, non-target species, and how people interact with the environment. EBM attempts to address these weaknesses by considering multiple spatial and temporal scales, linking ecosystems and communities, connecting management efforts across air, land and sea boundaries, and engaging meaningfully with stakeholders.
InVEST can inform an ecosystem-based approach to marine spatial planning processes by examining likely changes in a suite of environmental services provided by marine and coastal regions under different management alternatives.
InVEST in Practice: Payments for Watershed Services
PWS are a type of payments for environmental services (PES) that focus on hydrological services, such as flood control, regulation of water supply, water purification, and erosion control. PES are contractual and voluntary transactions where a 'buyer' agrees to provide 'payment' to a 'seller' conditional on delivery of an environmental service, or implementation of a land use or management practice likely to secure that service. PWS create financial incentives to protect, restore, or sustain environmental services provided by watersheds.
Establishing PWS often takes years, requiring extensive stakeholder engagement to build trust and commitment. Classic cases of PWS include the system established by New York City (USA) in the Catskills Mountains and the Quito Water Fund (FONAG) in Ecuador. Activities subsidized by PWS can include restoring wetlands and maintaining native vegetation. While there is still debate on whether PES are an efficient way to improve or maintain environmental services and biodiversity, interest in establishing PES is growing rapidly.
InVEST can help support the design and implementation of PWS programs by identifying whether and how payments can meet multiple goals, determining where to distribute payments or establish new programs, and improving the efficiency of investments. In some cases, InVEST can also help select among management options, based on the environmental service returns.
InVEST in Practice: Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers
A PRSP is a strategy document describing a country's macroeconomic, structural, and social policies, and programs to promote economic growth and reduce poverty. A PRSP shapes some of the most influential national public policies, affecting budgetary priorities and sectoral plans. Since 1999, developing country governments prepare PRSPs as part of the process of applying for World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans. The PRSP framework was designed to enhance the effectiveness of actions by countries and donors in reducing poverty.
Integrating environmental services into PRSPs provides a powerful route to mainstream poverty-environment linkages into national and sectoral policies, plans and programs. Environmental degradation can exacerbate poverty in many important ways: increasing vulnerability to natural hazards, reducing access to fuel and food, and creating health risks. The World Bank itself notes the need to incorporate the environment into PRSPs. Nevertheless, environmental issues are still rarely considered in depth.
InVEST can help support the integration of environmental considerations into PRSPs by identifying how environmental services benefit the poor and guiding selection of policies that sustain these benefits.
InVEST in Practice: Mitigation and Offsets
Biodiversity offsets are conservation actions intended to compensate for the residual, unavoidable harm to biodiversity caused by development projects, so as to ensure no net loss of biodiversity. There is still debate over whether offsets discourage avoidance and mitigation of harmful biodiversity impacts. Further controversies occur over whether offsets lead to an overall loss of biodiversity and cause an unfair redistribution of benefits among stakeholders. Nevertheless, interest in biodiversity offsets is growing along with interest in expanding offsets to include environmental services.
Offset programs can be expanded to include actions that compensate for loss of environmental services, such as erosion control and water purification. Offsets follow a mitigation hierarchy, where harmful impacts are preferably avoided, then mitigated, and finally offset.
InVEST can help support the design and implementation of offset projects by identifying whether projects are likely to degrade environmental services, guiding selection of offset locations, and improving the efficiency of offset activities.
InVEST in Practice: Carbon Offsets
Voluntary carbon markets involve the buying and selling of carbon credits by organizations and individuals to offset their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limit their contribution to climate change. A carbon credit represents an additional ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestered or not emitted. The voluntary carbon market is not regulated, and the credits are not used to meet any legally binding targets. However, various standards have been developed to assess the quality of carbon offsets and develop buyer confidence in the market.
The voluntary market offers many land-based offsets that involve reforestation, agroforestry or reduced deforestation. Deforestation and other land use conversions account for 30 percent of GHG emissions. Reducing land-based emissions can be a cost-effective method of addressing climate change. Land-based carbon projects often provide benefits in addition to carbon sequestration, such as biodiversity conservation, diversification of agriculture, soil and water protection, employment, and ecotourism.
InVEST can help support land-based carbon offset projects by identifying how and where these 'co-benefits' from carbon investments can be maximized. Such information can be used to guide the selection of projects for investment, improve the efficiency of chosen projects and estimate the likely level of co-benefits, possibly allowing entry into a niche market for environmentally-friendly carbon offsets.
How can scenarios frame environmental service studies to be policy relevant?
Scenarios can increase the impact of environmental service analyses on decisions. They enable proactive, forward-looking, comparative assessments. Scenarios can frame studies to explore the potential impacts of uncertain changes that may occur in the future. Scenarios can also frame studies to understand the likely consequences of alternative decisions, policies and plans. Through scenarios, one can elucidate how the many drivers of environmental change interact.
To enable those conducting environmental service assessments to develop policy-relevant and robust scenarios, the Natural Capital Project is developing guidance materials and tools for scenario developers and users. These tools will draw on best practice in the academic literature and international experience using scenarios in the context of environmental service analyses in the field.
Together with partners, we have developed a primer on developing scenarios for environmental service analyses that support decision making. The primer will help users navigate the literature on scenario development, develop scenarios, and translate the storylines into environmental service analyses.
See our Scenarios for InVEST page for more information on developing and using Scenarios with InVEST, and to download these tools and resources.
For more information, contact Emily McKenzie