Greening the City: Payment for Ecosystem Services in Urban Environments

How can we capture the value of urban greenery and biodiversity when competing against urban development?

Urban trees are important, but how can we finance their insertion and upkeep? Daniel Richards and Benjamin Thompson

Urban green spaces, including parks and private gardens, provide many benefits, or “ecosystem services”, to residents. These benefits include cooling the air, reducing flood risk, and enhancing recreation and physical activity. However, urban green spaces are increasingly under pressure from urban development, partly because of a lack of funding to protect and improve them. In our recent article in People and Nature we describe how a financial mechanism called “payments for ecosystem services” could be used to support urban greening and conservation efforts.

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) projects have been used in over 500 places around the world, to provide funding for nature conservation projects. Almost all of these past examples come from rural areas, but the idea has not yet been seriously applied in cities. We argue that PES holds great potential to support urban ecology, because there are many beneficiaries of urban green spaces who might be motivated to pay to support them. For example; restaurants that benefit from being located next to public parks could help support their upkeep. Similarly, insurance companies could pay homeowners to plant more vegetation to slow the flow of rain water and reduce flood risk, thus reducing their pay-outs to flooded properties.

To make PES happen in cities we need better science to quantify the ecosystem services that urban vegetation provides to city residents, businesses, and governments. Relatedly, we need to identify whether these urban stakeholders are interested to pay to support urban greening and biodiversity conservation, and link them to the landowners who manage urban green spaces, such as neighbourhood associations, horticultural societies, and city councils. Recent advances in financial technology (Fintech) could help administer payments between those that manage urban green space and those that benefit from it. Urban PES could provide local citizens with an incentive to become better environmental stewards, and could help national governments to achieve their policy commitments to reduce biodiversity loss.

Read the paper: 

Follow the authors on Twitter:  Dan Richards and Benjamin Thompson