Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from nature—for example, the production of food, the provision of clean water, and the regulation of climate, as well as opportunities for cultural, spiritual and recreational experiences. In recent history there has been a big decline in biodiversity as a result of human activities, and species are becoming extinct much faster than at any time in the past.
Ecosystem services have also changed markedly, and many are in a reduced or degraded state. In many cases, rural and indigenous communities in Central America and southern Mexico value and understand the importance of maintaining a healthy coastal mangrove area or a forested water source but have few economic alternatives and must choose between, for example, cutting down trees to sell and put food on the table or leaving the trees and going hungry.
PES can respond to this difficult situation, providing both short-term gain—clean water, for example—and long-term gain, the preservation of the watershed that provides the water. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a method to provide a group that has some control over a natural resource, such as a forest or freshwater body, with defined incentives to care for that resource so it survives in the long term. Thus, PES provides a means to financially support a community or village that protects and/or restores natural resources that are of benefit to everyone, and it offsets the need to turn to extractive and destructive practices to gain necessary income.
A focus on Environmental Services (ES) can provide both short-term gain—clean water, for example—and long-term gain, the preservation of the watershed that provides the water.