Peri-urbanization and Global Environmental Change

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Biophical Valuation of Ecosystem Service

Last Updated: 2009-05-15

Urban and economic systems can not be fully understood in isolation from their resource base ¡V the ecological system within which they exist. Cities have to rely on the ecosystem beyond the city limits and maintain stable links with the hinterland from which they draw energy, food, and materials and into which they release their wastes.


Ecosystem services refer to the benefits of human beings derived from ecosystem function. According to de Groot (2006), ecosystems can serve five primary functions: regulation functions provide and maintain the conditions for life on Earth and often provide the necessary pre-conditions for all other functions; habitat functions relate to the spatial conditions needed to maintain biotic and genetic diversity and evolutionary processes, based on different species and the physical aspects of the ecological niche within the biosphere; production functions provides resources for human use, ranging from food and raw materials to energy resources and genetic material; information functions are an ¡§reference function¡¨ and reflect ecosystem services providing opportunities to humans; and the capacity of natural system can provide carrier functions for humans¡¦ activities and requirements limitedly.


Monetary valuation of ecosystem services and natural capital may be useful to demonstrate their economic value but is insufficient to measure the intrinsic worth of the life support function of ecosystem (Costanza et al., 1997). The intrinsic value of the natural environment in providing life-support services requires a new accounting system that can assure the contribution of non-marketed natural environment to the economic system. Energy flows are not only one of the most important unifying concepts in ecosystem development they are also the only common measure that connects ecosystems and economic systems (Hall et al., 1986). Biophysically based energy analysis can provide a comprehensive framework to analyze urban ecological economic systems that allows non-market information to be incorporated more easily.


In order to evaluate the contributory value of different material flows to the ecological economic system, Odum has formulated a unifying theory of system ecology of values (Odum, 1971, 1988, 1996) and introduced the concept of emergy. Emergy is defined as all the available energy that was used in the work of making a product in units of one type of energy (Odum, 1996). The energy content (e.g. joule) or mass of a flow can be multiplied by its solar transformity to obtain its solar emergy in solar emergy joules (sej). Emergy indices can be developed to evaluate the work of nature and their contribution to urban systems. Further details on the concept and procedure of emergy synthesis can be found in Huang and Odum (1991), Odum (1996), and Brown and Ulgiati (2004).




1.   Brown, M. T. and S. Ulgiati. (2004). Emergy and environmental accounting. In: Cleveland, C. (Ed), Encyclopedia of Energy. Vol.2. pp. 329-353. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

2.   Costanza, R., d¡¦Arge, R., Groot, R. d., Faber, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., Limburg, K., Naeem, S., O¡¦Neill, R. V., Paruelo, J., Raskin, R. G., Sutton, P., and Belt, M. v. D., (1997). The value of the world¡¦s ecosystem services and natural capital, Nature, 387: 253-260.

3.   de Groot, R. S. (2006), Function-analysis and valuation as a tool to assess land use conflicts in planning for sustainable, multi-functional landscapes, Landscape and Urban Planning, 75: 175-186.

4.   Hall, C. A. S., C. J. Cleveland, and R. Kauffmann. (1986). Energy and Resource Quality: The Ecology of the Economic Process. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

5.   Huang, S. ¡VL. and H. T. Odum. (1991). Ecology and economy: Emergy synthesis and public policy in Taiwan, Journal of Environmental Management, 32: 313-333.

6.   Odum, H. T. (1971). Environment, power and society. New York: John Wiley and sons.

7.   Odumk, H. T. (1988). Self-organization, transformity, and information, Science, 242: 1132-1139.

8.   Odum, H. T. (1996). Environmental Accounting. New York: John Wiley.

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