Governing (with) ecosystem services

Changing Problematisations and Rationalities of Governing in German Nature and Landscape Policies


'Ecosystem services' (ESS) has become a key term of the international, the European and increasingly also the German debates on nature conservation and landscape management. It may be regarded as an indicator of a programmatic reorientation of biodiversity policies in an economic vein. It has hardly been studied hitherto how governing in the policy area 'nature conservation and landscape management' is changing in Germany with the increased use of the term 'ecosystem services'. For instance, does an economisation or neoliberalisation of nature and landscape occur, that is, an expansion of the application of economic and market-based principles, as is often described at the international level? Or do counteracting forces prevail that end up reinforcing the well-established relationship of governmental regulation, civil society involvement and market forces? Or is a specific novel understanding of nature and landscape policies developing in the course of the ESS discourses currently being produced in Germany? – These fundamental questions lie at the heart of the project.


The aim is to study ESS discourses in Germany from the perspective of governmentality research. It is to be analysed how nature conservation and landscape management are debated in connection with the economically influenced ESS concept. The focus is on the problematisations and rationalities of governing in the policy area 'nature conservation and landscape management', in particular on the dynamics of changes in these problematisations and rationalities in Germany. Closely related is the question which changes are to be observed in how the objects of these policies (that is, nature, landscape, biological diversity, planning etc.) are constituted as a part of problematisations and whether even entirely new objects arise in the course of the ES discourses.


The project is conceived as a discourse analysis, relying on quantitative lexicometric methods as well as on qualitative empirical methods such as document analyses, semi-structured interviews and participant observation. Among others, the initiatives 'Natural Capital Germany – TEEB DE' and 'Implementation of Action 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy in Germany' (MAES DE) are to be studied in depth.

Results so far

A first empirical analysis was targeted on the political initiative "Natural Capital Germany – TEEB DE" (Leibenath 2017, 2018, 2019). The objective was to examine the problematisations and rationalities of governing produced so far in the context of TEEB-DE and to assess them in the light of different 'arts of government'. The most important finding is that the TEEB-DE discourse includes a relatively coherent neoliberal subdiscourse in terms of problematisations of governing, whereas with regard to rationalities it appears to be more polyphonic. The increased recognition of the ecosystem services concept in Germany as epitomised by TEEB-DE has so far not generated a consistent programme of neoliberal policy proposals. This is because TEEB-DE ties in with previous discourses in Germany that were mainly characterised by sovereign and disciplinary governmentalities, and interweaves them with the neoliberal framework of ecosystem services and natural capital.

Discourses and counter-discourses related to the ES concept have been further analysed. We interviewed six key actors from TEEB-DE and analysed 30 publications in detail which had been selected from a corpus of 200 texts (Kurth 2019a, 2019b). Critical voices noted, inter alia, that the economic approach of TEEB-DE was highly selective, that a concept rooted in Anglo-American traditions was inappropriately transplanted into the German context and that economic thinking would entail significant risks for nature conservation, because well-established programmes and measures could be questioned with reference to financial arguments.


Leibenath, M., Kurth, M. & Lintz, G. (2020), Science–policy interfaces related to biodiversity and nature conservation: The case of Natural Capital Germany—TEEB-DE. Sustainability, 12, 9, 3701.

Leibenath, M. (2017), Ecosystem services and neoliberal governmentality – German style. Land Use Policy, 64, 307-316.

Kurth, M. (2019), Jenseits von Konsensfiktion und Vereinnahmung. Zur Neubestimmung des Ortes umweltsoziologischer Kritik am Beispiel von "Naturkapital Deutschland – TEEB DE". In: Burzan, N. (Hrsg.), Komplexe Dynamiken globaler und lokaler Entwicklungen. Verhandlungen des 39. Kongresses der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie in Göttingen 2018. Online verfügbar unter, besucht am 09.03.2020.

Kurth, M. (2019), Zur Befragung der Umweltforschung an der Schnittstelle von Wissenschaft und Politik – Theorie und Methodik der postfundamentalistischen Diskursanalyse am Beispiel von "Naturkapital Deutschland – TEEB DE". In: Sattlegger, L., Deppisch, L. & Rudolfi, M. (Hrsg.), Methoden umweltsoziologischer Forschung. Tagungsband der 15. Tagung der Nachwuchsgruppe Umweltsoziologie. ISOE-Materialien Soziale Ökologie (92-101). Frankfurt a. M.: ISOE. Online verfügbar unter, besucht am 09.03.2020.

Leibenath, M. (2018), Ökosystemleistungen und die Neoliberalisierung des Naturschutzes: Untersucht am Beispiel von ‚Naturkapital Deutschland – TEEB DE’. Naturschutz und Landschaftsplanung, 50, 2, 51-56.

Leibenath, M. (2018), The Ecosystem Services Concept and its relation to national biodiversity policies: The case of ‘Natural Capital Germany – TEEB DE’. In: Berger, L. (Hrsg.), Marine Ecosystem Services (= BfN-Skripten 521) (101-112). Bonn: BfN. Online available, accessed on 29.01.2019.

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.