The Flemish region has one of the highest population densities in Europe, large urban and industrial areas, one of the most dense traffic networks of the world and intensive agriculture as a dominating land use. Biodiversity in Flanders has declined dramatically in the past, and there is no indication that this trend is changing. Increased urbanization and other developments have led to an overall degradation of the environment (including decreased infiltration, groundwater table and more frequent and extreme flooding in the downstream areas).
The environmental management in Flanders is highly institutionalized and the specific competences for both policy development as operational management are fragmented among many institutions. The Flemish Region as a whole is an example of the high costs associated with ecosystem degradation and replacement of the ecosystem services by technical measures and infrastructure
The Flemish Region thus faces enormous challenges to improve its environmental management and to comply with EU environmental standards. The current measures and actions are not adequate enough to reach these standards while costs for environmental management are already very high. One of the main reasons of this low cost-efficiency is a lack of policy integration due to a lack of insight on ecosystem functioning among policy makers. This makes it difficult for them to recognize the full spectrum of the benefits that are associated with ES-based measures. The cost-efficiency is currently assessed on reaching specific policy objectives, while disregarding the objectives of other policy domains, while the most efficient measures may not be realized because they interfere with the competences of other policy domains.
The ecosystem service framework has a specific potential to facilitate this integration in a structured way. With the challenge of climate change in sight, additional adaptation and mitigation measures are needed. This provides the opportunity to demonstrate that planning of ecosystem service generation is a cost-effective alternative for many environmental problems that goes beyond halting the decline in biodiversity.
The ECOPLAN project aims to develop tools that can help to meet these challenges and provide policy relevant tools and knowledge on ecosystem services.