Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 397–408 | Cite as

Payments for ecosystem services in relation to US and UK agri-environmental policy: disruptive neoliberal innovation or hybrid policy adaptation?

  • Clive A. PotterEmail author
  • Steven A. Wolf


This paper draws on ideas about policy innovation and adaptation to assess the extent to which ‘payments for ecosystem services’ (PES) can be seen as a challenge to traditionally more bureaucratic, state-centered ways of paying for the provisioning of environmental goods from agricultural landscapes through agri environmental policy (AEP). Focussing on recent experience in the United States and the UK, the paper documents the extent to which PES is now an established term of reference in AEP research and debate in both countries and postulates that this may usher in a new discourse of environmental provisioning in agriculture. The PES landscape is, however, currently highly fragmented and largely experimental, with ‘PES-like’ approaches being piloted in the field through partnerships between state agencies and localized private and charitable interests. State-supported AEP programs remain substantially intact, and rather than any displacement of state action, there appears to be a more gradual insertion of PES approaches and metrics into standard AEP operating procedures. This institutional stickiness is partly due to the continuing difficulty of agreeing the metrics necessary for measuring outcomes but may also be due to the politically well defended nature of traditional AEP entitlements and associated policy networks. We conclude by suggesting a need for further research to better understand these specifically political constraints and sources of resistance to PES and the ambiguous consequences for institutions, policy networks, rural communities and environment.


Payments for ecosystem services Agri-environmental policy Neoliberalization 



Agri-Environmental Policy


Common Agricultural Policy


Conservation Reserve Program


Environmental Benefits Index


Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Non-Governmental Organization


Office of Environmental Markets


Payments for ecosystem services


United States Department of Agriculture


World Trade Organization



We are grateful to Sandra Batie, Matthew Cranford, Jacqui Dibden, Vaughan Higgins and Sophie Wynne-Jones for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Environmental PolicyImperial College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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