The global status and trends of Payments for Ecosystem Services

  • Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages136144 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41893-018-0033-0
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Recent decades have witnessed a considerable increase in Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)—programmes that exchange value for land management practices intended to provide or ensure ecosystem services—with over 550 active programmes around the globe and an estimated US$36–42 billion in annual transactions. PES represent a recent policy instrument with often very different programmes operating at local, regional and national levels. Despite the growth of these programmes, comprehensive and reliable data have proven difficult to find. This Analysis provides an assessment of the trends and current status of PES mechanisms—user-financed, government-financed and compliance—across the domains of water, biodiversity, and forest and land-use carbon around the world. We report the various dimensions of growth over the past decade (number of programmes, geographical spread, dollar value) to understand better the range of PES mechanisms over time and to examine which factors have contributed to or hindered growth. Four key features stand out for scaling up PES: motivated buyers, motivated sellers, metrics and low-transaction-cost institutions.

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The authors are grateful for the fellowship support of Resources for the Future and the Rockefeller Foundation, as well the gift to the Duke University School of Law from the Eugene T. Bost, Jr. Research Professorship of The Cannon Charitable Trust No. 3. Research support was provided by K. Hamrick, A. Cooper, K. Silverman-Roati and D. Carpenter-Gold.

Author information


  1. Bren School of Environmental Management and Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

    • James Salzman
  2. School of Law, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    • James Salzman
  3. Forest Trends, Washington DC, USA

    • Genevieve Bennett
    • , Nathaniel Carroll
    • , Allie Goldstein
    •  & Michael Jenkins


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J.S. conceived the project, analysed the data and wrote the paper. G.B. performed data collection and analysis and wrote the paper. N.C. and A.G. performed data collection and analysis. M.J. edited the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James Salzman.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    4 pages with supplementary methods description, 1 suppl. Table