Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes incentivise landowners to maintain, restore or enhance ecosystem services. Currently, there are more than 550 active PES programmes worldwide, expected to support conservation efforts and, ideally, to also reduce rural poverty. In this article we explore the discourses that underpin PES debates and practice in Colombia, a late-comer to the PES agenda in Latin-America. Informed by interviews with PES actors and Q-methodology (n = 41), we identify three PES discourses: conservation conduit, contextual conservation, and inconvenient conservation. The narratives diverge in their framing of deforestation processes; their most preferred PES design features; the likely role of payments in changing people’s motivations to conserve biodiversity over time; and the potential effectiveness of PES, specifically when the latter aim to contribute to peace-building efforts and reducing illicit crop cultivation. The conservation conduit and contextual discourse are by far the most popular, while the inconvenient conservation narrative is only endorsed by academic actors. This suggests the existence of a broad community which believes PES are a pragmatic conservation strategy and who supports PES because payments can correct the often-uneven distribution of conservation costs and benefits. This overall positive engagement with PES, we argue, may facilitate the increase and upscaling of PES initiatives throughout the country, provided that funding and other supporting social conditions are met.
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