A cross-scale impact assessment of European nature protection policies under contrasting future socio-economic pathways

Published on

Protection of natural or semi-natural ecosystems is an important part of societal strategies for maintaining biodiversity, ecosystem services, and achieving overall sustainable development. The assessment of multiple emerging land use trade-offs is complicated by the fact that land use changes occur and have consequences at local, regional, and even global scale. Outcomes also depend on the underlying socio-economic trends. The study applies a coupled, multi-scale modelling system to assess an increase in nature protection areas as a key policy option in the European Union (EU).

The main goal of the analysis is to understand the interactions between policy-induced land use changes across different scales and sectors under two contrasting future socio-economic pathways. The researchers demonstrate how complementary insights into land system change can be gained by coupling land use models for agriculture, forestry, and urban areas for Europe, in connection with other world regions. The simulated policy case of nature protection shows how the allocation of a certain share of total available land to newly protected areas, with specific management restrictions imposed, may have a range of impacts on different land-based sectors until the year 2040.

Agricultural land in Europe is slightly reduced, which is partly compensated for by higher management intensity. As a consequence of higher costs, total calorie supply per capita is reduced within the EU. While wood harvest is projected to decrease, carbon sequestration rates increase in European forests. At the same time, imports of industrial roundwood from other world regions are expected to increase. Some of the aggregate effects of nature protection have very different implications at the local to regional scale in different parts of Europe. Due to nature protection measures, agricultural production is shifted from more productive land in Europe to on average less productive land in other parts of the world. This increases, at the global level, the allocation of land resources for agriculture, leading to a decrease in tropical forest areas, reduced carbon stocks, and higher greenhouse gas emissions outside of Europe. The integrated modelling framework provides a method to assess the land use effects of a single policy option while accounting for the trade-offs between locations, and between regional, European, and global scales.

Full reference: 

Lotze-Campen, H., Verburg, P.H., Popp, A., Lindner, M., Verkerk, P.J., Moiseyev, A., Schrammeijer, E., Helming, J., Tabeau, A., Schulp, C.J.E., van der Zanden, E.H., Lavalle, C., e Silva, F.B., Walz, A., Bodirsky, B., 2017. A cross-scale impact assessment of European nature protection policies under contrasting future socio-economic pathwaysRegional Environmental Change, 1-12.