From principles to practice in paying for nature's services

S. Wunder*, R. Brouwer, S. Engel, D. Ezzine-De-Blas, R. Muradian, U. Pascual, R. Pinto

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Payments for Environmental Services (PES) constitute an innovative economic intervention to counteract the global loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. In theory, some appealing features should enable PES to perform well in achieving conservation and welfare goals. In practice, outcomes depend on the interplay between context, design and implementation. Inspecting a new global dataset, we find that some PES design principles pre-identified in the social-science literature as desirable, such as spatial targeting and payment differentiation, are only partially being applied in practice. More importantly, the PES-defining principle of conditionality-monitoring compliance and sanctioning detected non-compliance-is seldom being implemented. Administrative ease, multiple non-environmental side objectives and social equity concerns may jointly help explain the reluctance to adopt more sophisticated, theoretically informed practices. However, by taking simplifying shortcuts in design and implementation, PES programmes may become less environmentally effective and efficient as economic incentives, thus underperforming their conservation potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-150
Number of pages6
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number3
Early online date12 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


This work resulted from workshops held at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Basque Centre for Climate Change (Bilbao) in 2015. We appreciate the assistance provided by C. Caro with the maps, and funding from CGIAR’s Forest, Trees and Agroforestry programme, the European Commission (SINCERE, H2020 GA 773702), the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation, the Basque Foundation for Science, Ikerbasque and the Agence Nationale de la Recherche. S.E. is the recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship in Environmental Economics. U.P. acknowledges research grants PI_2015_1_103 from the Education Department of the Basque Government and CSO2015-71243-R from the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness.

FundersFunder number
SINCEREH2020 GA 773702
Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme773702
European Commission
Agence Nationale de la RecherchePI_2015_1_103
Eusko JaurlaritzaCSO2015-71243-R
Ikerbasque, Basque Foundation for Science
Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad, Gobierno de España
Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers


    Dive into the research topics of 'From principles to practice in paying for nature's services'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this