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Depositphotos | wlad74

© Depositphotos | wlad74

Measuring what ecosystems do for us: new report on ecosystem services in the EU

Ecosystems contribute essential services to the economy and society. A new report “Accounting for­ ecosystems and their­ services in the­ European Union unravels the benefits that forests, rivers, grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems provide. It shows how restoring degraded ecosystems has the potential to double nature’s contribution to the EU economy and society.

Based on 2012 data, EU’s ecosystems generated an annual flow of selected seven ecosystem services at the value of € 172 billion. Forests delivered almost half of this supply. In 2019, the economic value provided by a wider set of ecosystem services in the EU amounted to € 234 billion. This value is comparable to the gross value added of agriculture and forestry combined. Water purification is the ecosystem service with the highest aggregated value, followed by nature-based recreation.

Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:

Healthy, thriving and resilient nature is at the core of our quality of life, thriving economies and resilient societies. Nature provides our food, filters our air and water, regulates our climate and protects us from heat waves and flooding. Losing these essential services would create unprecedented threats to our health, economies and societies. This report is a key tool for future-proof policymaking. It will allow us to make better-informed decisions and policies under the European Green Deal, benefiting people, planet and the economy.

Despite the crucial role of ecosystems for our economy and society, there is no established and regular measurement of ecosystem condition or of the quantity of services they supply. The EU INCA project aims to close that gap by delivering an integrated system of ecosystem accounts for the EU. The report summarises key results of this project, showing practical examples of possible uses of ecosystem services accounts and existing policy application. It allows scientists, statisticians and policymakers to learn how ecosystems and their services support our society, what changes in ecosystems and ecosystem services took place in the EU in the past couple of decades and how all this can be measured in a standardised and comparable way.

Europe’s growing population and the increasing urbanisation and consumption are putting pressure on ecosystems and the services they provide. Therefore, the EU prioritises the protection of 30% of the EU land and sea area by 2030 and the restoration of degraded ecosystems as key policy initiatives of its EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. In 2021, the Commission will table a proposal setting binding restoration targets for different type of ecosystems. Ecosystem accounts present a useful tool to monitor the policy impact of these actions.

Next steps

The Commission is going to propose the revision of the Regulation on European Environmental Economic Accounts (EEEA) to expand its coverage to include a new module on natural capital accounting, fully consistent with the UN framework. This is in line with the recommendation of the European Court of Auditors and the recent mid-term review of European Strategy for environmental accounts (ESEA) 2019-2023. The EU could then become the global front-runner as being the first continent in the world reporting on changes in ecosystems and their services.


Ecosystems contribute essential services to the economy and society. These include the provision of food, filtration of air and water, pollination, climate regulation, protection against extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding, and many more. The ability of ecosystems to supply these services depends on their extent (‘size’) and condition (‘health’).

European Commission 2021 | Eurostat
© European Commission 2021 | Eurostat

Ecosystem accounting is an emerging field that aims to provide an internationally agreed guidance to measure and record changes in ecosystems and ecosystem services in a consistent and comparable manner. In the context of the European Green Deal, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 is calling for the establishment of an international natural capital accounting initiative.

Led by Eurostat, the European Commission and the European Environment Agency have established an Integrated System of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services Accounting for the EU – INCA. INCA contains three types of accounts: extent, condition and ecosystem services. The first two track the changes in natural capital: the total area of ecosystems and their condition or integrity.

As part of the project, the Commission’s Joint Research Centre developed a new methodology to unravel how ecosystem services flow from nature to our economy. More info here


European Commission 2021

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