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Ecosystem service valuation framework applied to a legal case in the Anchicaya region of Colombia

Toledo, David, Briceño, Tania, Ospina, German
Ecosystem services 2018 v.29 pp. 352-359
biodiversity, case studies, coasts, corporations, dams (hydrology), data collection, ecosystem services, ecosystems, energy, geographic information systems, land cover, markets, rivers, sediments, surveys, Colombia
Lack of explicit value for ecosystem services has resulted in great damage being imposed on the poor when engineering projects of wealthy corporations impose externalities on local communities. Such communities are rarely in a position to extract payment for damages from the well-healed corporations. The case study reported in this manuscript is a classic example of such social injustice. The Anchicaya region in the Colombian Pacific coast is characterized by its rich cultural and biological diversity. The primary inhabitants of this region are Afro-descendant communities who are directly dependent on the surrounding natural environment. On July 21st, 2001 there was an illegal discharge of approximately 500,000m3 of accumulated sediment from a hydroelectric dam on the Anchicaya River, which gravely affected those inhabiting the region downstream of the dam. In 2002, the communities of the Lower Anchicaya region began a class action suit against the energy company in charge of the dam. After years of deliberations favoring the downstream communities, on April of 2012 the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled in favor of the energy company in charge of the dam, overruling 10 years of deliberations. Through Judgment T-274, the Constitutional Court of Colombia declared that direct valuation studies that had been made in 2002, shortly after the spill, were inadmissible due to lack of objectivity and rigor and ordered that the studies be repeated. In order to value damage that had happened more than 10 years before, we determined that a land cover based ecosystem service valuation would provide the best science-based approach to conduct the valuation. For this we used historical data from geographic information systems, data collected in the affected areas, surveys, and the Ecosystem Valuation Toolkit created by Earth Economics. Several valuation methodologies were used including direct valuation, replacement costs, and benefit transfer. We used the ecosystem service valuation framework to quantify the material and non-material damages recognized under the Colombian legal framework. The total value for the valuation of material damages was of COP $356,688,589,331 (approximately $100 million USD). For the non-material damages, which we classified as cultural ecosystem services, we noted that the loss was high as the victims lost something invaluable and critical for their identity and their well-being. According to the Colombian judicial system, the judge who presides over the case will determine the amount to be paid for these non-material damages. In 2015, the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled in favor of the Anchicaya community and ordered that the communities be indemnified; however a final value has not been decided to date. We provide a broad classification of valuation methodologies of ecosystem services that can, and has been, aptly used within a legal framework. It is also important to note that this study provides a valuation of services for a subsistence economy, with communities operating outside monetary markets, much like many other remote communities rich in supporting and regulating ecosystem services.