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Policy recommendations

The VOLANTE project has demonstrated that to understand current land use changes, we need to know the relevant processes in the past. To project to the future we need to define clear scenarios of possible developments. But most important is to develop visions with overarching themes, which could well differ from the current trends. Incremental policy change merely reacting on external developments may not achieve the changes that we want, and that also society requires for sustainable development. The assessment of pathways towards visions of future land use management in the VOLANTE project leads to the following policy recommendations.

1. General consensus emerges on major land use management issues

Despite the major contrasts between the three VOLANTE visions, there were important similarities highlighting the need for bold and coordinated change in European land use. There was consensus that:

  • Europe will need to greatly increase its resource use efficiency, and reduce its ecological footprint, both within and outside Europe, through better governance, integrated land use policies, and by adopting technology;
  • The coming decades will see a growing demand on European land to provide a wide range of services, requiring careful land use planning and management;
  • Rural areas will provide many of these services, and will have an important role in supporting sustainable development of Europe.

2. Bold and coordinated change in European land use needed

The generally adopted scenarios for global economic and societal development show a strong polarisation of land functions in Europe in the near future. Continuing current trends, land sparing seems a much more likely prospect over large parts of Europe than land sharing, possibly with the exception of peri-urban landscapes. Still, a large majority of the visions expressed in our stakeholder consultations aim for a considerable degree of multifunctionality. However, we have seen that the investigated VOLANTE policy alternatives did not always achieve this target even if so wished: it seems that we are not getting what we want! Apparently it is extremely difficult to set out a structured road to a future that is substantially different from the one that could be expected from business as usual, following current trends. This planning paradox requires due societal consideration and debate, especially because it seems that neglecting long term consequences of current trends could lead to almost irreversible land transitions, including uncontrolled land abandonment, soil degradation, biodiversity decrease, loss of ecosystem services ancenturyd decline of rural liveability.

3. Consideration of a broad range of land use policy options necessary to select robust pathways

VOLANTE has developed an innovative approach to guide land use decision making in achieving desired land use visions. To reach some of the stakeholder visions we need a much broader range of pathways and policy options than we had the possibility to use in our foresight studies, for various reasons. It appears that traditional assessment instruments are limited in their capability to simulate visions which strongly depart from existing land use patterns, and that the Europe-wide models used have difficulty in accommodating local multifunctionality. Moreover, land use governance is not well adapted for multifunctionality either, which is much more complicated than planning for strictly separated functions using incremental policy strategies. Although society does have awareness of trade-offs of the latter, comprehensive consequences of futures are difficult to imagine. Therefore new integrated policy approaches of a high governance effectivity regarding multiple functions in the rural area are needed.

4. Land use policy needs to be sensitive to regional differences

Recently, land use change has been relatively limited over Europe as a whole, but VOLANTE shows that there are hotspots of change, both in land abandonment and land recultivation in various parts of Europe, where large dynamics occur and can be expected in the near future in the rural area. Moreover, historical evidence shows that there are periods of decreasing and of increasing land use change across Europe, depending largely on changes in external conditions and political turnovers. To keep land use transitions manageable at a European and regional level, It seems crucial to identify hotspots of change at an early stage, implying in-depth study of land use processes, since land cover changes generally show a considerable time lag after changes in land use functions.

5. Wise use of land resources can offer huge opportunities for society

Because land use planning is strictly speaking not an EU competence, while at the same time land use development is largely determined by a range of sectoral EU policies, it should be a priority action in policy and society to accommodate cross-sectoral strategies to achieve new images of land use for the future. At national level comparable situations can be observed in many countries. Creative out-of-the-box thinking is needed to provide for innovative combinations of sectoral policy targets, and to allow narrowing down the wide range of possible futures, instead of ad-hoc reacting on external developments. Although it is not sure e.g. whether our society will accept returning to a more agrarian life, it might be worthwhile to explore the advantages and disadvantages of such future in terms of ecosystem services (including amenity value and cultural heritage), investments and trade-offs.

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