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What should we call instruments commonly known as payments for environmental services? A review of the literature and a proposal

Authors

  • Barry G. Shelley

    1. Graduate Programs in Sustainable International Development, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts
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  • Preferred citation: Barry G. Shelley. 2011. What should we call instruments commonly known as payments for environmental services? A review of the literature and a proposal in “Ecological Economics Reviews.” Robert Costanza, Karin Limburg & Ida Kubiszewski, Eds. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1219: 209–225.

Address for correspondence: Barry G. Shelley, 11 Doris Avenue, Brockton, Massachusetts 02301. bshelley@brandeis.edu

Abstract

Researchers, policy makers, and practitioners have used various terms to describe instruments that reward the stewardship of ecosystem services that benefit “external” actors. Payments for environmental services, or PES, has been the predominant name. However, critics have challenged both the payments and environmental components of this nomenclature, most commonly proposing markets, compensation, or rewards as alternatives for the former, and ecosystem for the latter. Additional questions arise regarding what to call the agents directly involved in the transaction: sellers and buyers, or stewards and beneficiaries? For some, concerns about this terminology have emerged from so-called “pro-poor PES” debates that ask if actors could and should incorporate poverty alleviation goals into PES instruments. This review of the modulating use of terms and the arguments about which best fit theory and experience points to the key policy and ethical issues at stake as PES programs face critical and timely questions about the direction they will head. The author contends that the choices of terms will influence that direction and proposes a new alternative—rewards for ecosystem service stewardship (RESS)—that better encompasses pro-poor options.

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