PUBLISHED:October 24, 2009

DELPF and USDA collaborate on ecosystem services markets symposium

Six or seven years ago, according to Professor Jim Salzman, any discussion of ecosystem services markets would have involved “just a few people around the table.” An Oct. 23 symposium on the government’s role in developing these markets, co-sponsored by the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum (DELPF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Environmental Services and Markets (OESM), filled three overflow rooms.

“This says to me that the issue of ecosystem services markets has come of age,” said Salzman, Duke’s Mordecai Professor of Law and Nicholas Institute Professor of Environmental Policy and a pioneer in the field.

Ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and water purification are public goods and worthy of compensation, he said. “Unless the landholders who provide these services receive compensation, then the services they provide are free and there’s really no economic reason to manage their land so they keep providing those services.

“Carbon has been the biggest driver in market growth,” Salzman added. “It has gotten communities interested that
wouldn’t normally be involved in, most notably, the energy sector. There will be a lot of money changing hands, and it will fall to the government to make sure these markets are credible.”

OESM Director Sally Collins said the discussion surrounding the role of carbon offsets on public lands to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions was particularly useful from a policy standpoint, as it has been the subject of recent congressional hearings. “The role of federal lands was much more diverse than we thought it would be,” said Collins,
who previously served as associate chief of the USDA Forest Service. “People had shifted their thinking over the last couple of years.”

Collins credited the combined convening power of Duke’s Law School, Nicholas School for the Environment, and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions — and hard work by student organizers — with luring an “A-team” of specialists from government, academia, and the private sector who could offer fresh perspectives on policy options for her bureau.

“The Duke symposium helped our staff focus on what [OESM’s] unique niche is within USDA,” she said, noting that agriculture policy is intricately interconnected. “It truly is around these new markets for ecosystem services and what it will take to get them to scale. How do these new markets fit within all these other markets that USDA already operates? How does it help grow real wealth? How does it help support the administration’s climate-change agenda? We are now clear that our focus should be these new markets associated with ecosystem services that until now have been left out of the economic equation.”