Journal article Open Access

Integrating ecological, economic and social aspects to generate useful management information under the EU Directives' 'ecosystem approach'

de Jonge, Victor N.; Pinto, Rute; Turner, R. Kerry

If we as scientists cannot decide upon what research, monitoring and technical tools should be used as a basis for policy making and management within the European context, then the politicians and other decision makers will continue to follow the line of 'weak' sustainability (applying monetary substitution rules to natural capital) instead of 'strong' sustainability (applying alternative rules such as the precautionary principle). Suitable integral indicators or indices matching the 'ecosystem approach' (EA) and thus covering ecological as well as socio-economic aspects are required. There is, however, a clear friction between what can be delivered in terms of useful '(integral) indicators' and what decision makers require us to deliver in terms of 'simple, cheap, easy to understand' while the real situation is extremely complex. This social, economic and ecological complexity has been an important impediment to the realisation of an EA that should guarantee 'sustainability'. What is missing since the publication of the Brundtland report is technical co-operation between the decision makers and the natural and social scientists. To achieve development of integral indicators we propose to make the Odum food web concepts functional by the application of ecological network analysis (ENA) and at a scale where socio-economic and ecological information can be integrated, which is the 'habitat' level. At the habitat level ecological functioning (natural compartment), human activities (economic compartment) and ecosystem functions to humans (socio-ecological compartment) can be designated and measured. This process can further be facilitated by the use of the Driver-Pressure-State change-Impact-Response (DPSIR) approach. To facilitate weighing and decision making multi-criteria techniques can be used.

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