Distilling the role of ecosystem services in the Sustainable Development Goals

Sylvia L.R. Wood, Sarah K. Jones, Justin A. Johnson, Kate A. Brauman, Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, Alexander Fremier, Evan Girvetz, Line J. Gordon, Carrie V. Kappel, Lisa Mandle, Mark Mulligan, Patrick O'Farrell, William K. Smith, Louise Willemen, Wei Zhang, Fabrice A. DeClerck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

171 Scopus citations


Achieving well-being for all, while protecting the environment, is one of the most pressing global challenges of our time, and a central idea in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We believe that integrating ecosystem services, the benefits nature provides to people, into strategies for meeting the SDGs can help achieve this. Many development goals are likely underpinned by the delivery of one or more ecosystem services. Understanding how these services could support multiple development targets will be essential for planning synergistic and cost-effective interventions. Here we present the results of an expert survey on the contributions of 16 ecosystem services to achieving SDG targets linked to environment and human well-being, and review the capacity of modelling tools to evaluate SDG-relevant ecosystem services interactions. Survey respondents judged that individual ecosystem services could make important contributions to achieving 41 targets across 12 SDGs. The provision of food and water, habitat & biodiversity maintenance, and carbon storage & sequestration were perceived to each make contributions to >14 SDG targets, suggesting cross-target interactions are likely, and may present opportunities for synergistic outcomes across multiple SDGs. Existing modelling tools are well-aligned to support SDG-relevant ecosystem service planning. Together, this work identifies entry points and tools to further analyze the role of ecosystem services to support the SDGs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-82
Number of pages13
JournalEcosystem Services
StatePublished - Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was conducted by the Making Ecosystems Count in the Sustainable Development Goals expert working group supported in part by Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at University of California, Santa Barbara, and with funding from the CGIAR programs on Water Land & Ecosystems, and Policy, Institutions & Markets and The Christensen Fund [grant number 2103-6712225, 2013-2016] and The Christensen Fund [grant number 2013-6712225]. NCEAS, TNC, and the CGIAR sponsored staff salaries and travel of workshop participants during the duration of the project. We received ethical approval for the survey from project partner King’s College London, ethics number MR/15/16-229. We heartily thank all the anonymous survey respondents, and consultation and workshop participants for their contribution to this project as well as A.G. for his very thoughtful and supportive input throughout the process.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Ecosystem modelling
  • Environmental benefits
  • Interactions
  • Policy review
  • Sustainable Development Goals


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