On 23 May 2023, in Riga, Latvia, the SELINA partners Baltic Environmental Forum Latvia and the Ministry of Environment Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia jointly organised the first meeting of the Latvian Community of Practice (CoP). The local CoP started during the ESMERALDA project and was now re-established by SELINA, involving both former and new members. The meeting brought together more than 30 experts including researchers, local authorities and business and civil society representatives who share an interest in ecosystem services and its uptake in decision-making and in addressing various challenges.
In the first part of the meeting, the participants were introduced to the SELINA project along with the main developments in Europe in the field of ecosystem services and natural capital management. This was followed by several presentations on state-of-the-art affairs and new achievements in the field of ecosystem services in Latvia in various sectors: nature protection, forests, sea, freshwater, landscape architecture and green infrastructure planning.
Participants were then introduced to the CoP objectives and the concept of transformative change. The main takeaways were that the Communities of Practice (CoPs) within SELINA will form peer-supported networks of practitioners from all EU Member States, empowering the communities to leverage their experience and co-develop new solutions for their practice, while staying in connection with other EU-wide CoPs. Members of the CoPs will participate in thematic dialogues, co-creation sessions and exchanges across CoPs and will also identify the seeds of change within SELINA.
In the second part of the CoP meeting in Latvia, four moderated group discussions focusing on different topics (urban, rural, freshwater, and marine and coastal environments) took place. Each group identified 5-7 projects and initiatives as potential “seeds of change” in Latvia and then selected one initiative per group to be further explored. The discussions also identified opportunities and obstacles for integrating ecosystem services in decision-making in Latvia.
Some of the key messages that emerged from the meeting were the following:
- The ecosystem services approach could be a way for Latvia to take steps to conserve threatened habitats and increase their area. However, it needs to be embedded at the national level to ensure it is not limited to individual initiatives and is considered in policy and decision-making.
- Apart from legislation changes, mindset change of politicians and the general public is also crucial for a wider acceptance and understanding of the ecosystem service approach.
- Creating as many real-life good practice examples as possible should be a priority in order to encourage the ecosystem services approach to be implemented in the work of, e.g., municipalities, private sector, etc.
- Data availability is an issue that needs to be addressed. Often data exists, but part of open-access datasets is only available in view mode, which prevents its full use in practical decision-making, especially in the private sector.
- Latvia needs a centre of excellence in fundamental science (either physical or virtual) to bring together knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- Preparing a collection of thematic studies would facilitate the integration into real decision-making.
This was the first in a series of meetings of the Latvian CoP. At the end of the meeting, participants showed strong interest in further cooperation and information exchange to support ecosystem service research and its uptake in decision-making in Latvia.
In the following months, meetings of CoPs will be organised in all countries involved in the SELINA project.