A natural ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of a community of living organisms (plants, animals, and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (like air, water, and mineral soil), interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Ecosystems provide a variety of services that are crucial to the well-being of the planet and all organisms living on it.
The governance of natural ecosystems involves processes by which public and private actors address societal challenges and manage the interaction between human social systems and natural systems.
These interactions can be cross-sectoral, participatory, voluntary, or obligatory, and may involve mainly non-governmental or private actors without a governmental or state administration guiding them. The scope of ecosystem governance is extensive as it encompasses adapting to and mitigating climate change, ensuring enough potable water, food, and energy for a growing population, and taking full advantage of the benefits that nature provides through ecosystem services provision. Challenges in this area include addressing the over-exploitation of natural resources which harms ecosystems and human well being, adapting land management, overcoming policy and structural challenges, improving market access, awareness, information availability, decision-making, collaborative lobbying, and securing sustained funding. To tackle these challenges, solutions may include developing extended producer responsibility and supply chain legislation, guaranteeing green public procurement, supporting technical innovation to enhance resource circularity, and adopting inclusive decision-making processes that consider the health of ecosystems alongside human needs. Understanding the intricacies of human-environmental interconnection is crucial for overcoming these challenges and requires innovative approaches that integrate diverse perspectives and sectors.
Environmental Governance and Natural Ecosystem Management
Natural ecosystem management and environmental governance are closely interrelated concepts, with the latter providing the broader policy, legal, and institutional framework within which ecosystem management takes place.
Environmental governance is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “multi-level interactions (i.e., local, national, international/global) among, but not limited to, three main players, i.e., state, market, and civil society, which interact with one another, whether in formal and informal ways; in formulating and executing policies in response to environment-related demands and inputs from the society; bound by rules, procedures, processes, and regulations.
Water governance, a specific subset of environmental governance, refers to the political, social, economic and administrative systems that influence the use and management of water. Essentially, who gets what water, when and how, and who has the right to water and related services, and their benefits. It determines the equity and efficiency in water resource and services allocation and distribution, and balances water use between socio-economic activities and ecosystems that supports the human use of natural resources. Thus, environmental governance provides the necessary framework, tools, and mechanisms to effectively manage natural ecosystems. It involves a range of activities from policy formulation and enforcement to stakeholder engagement and education, all aimed at preserving and sustainably managing natural environments.