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Selecting Robust Pathways

 

Our future is inherently uncertain and it is clear that we cannot forecast future land use with any confidence. Too many factors are out of our control. Extraordinary climate extremes could have drastic influences on agriculture and forestry – just imagine a 2003 drought extreme three decades later around 2035 when average climate will be considerably warmer and rainfall distribution could be much more variable. We may experience more severe economic or political crises with devastating consequences on all land use related sectors. When studying potential pathways to specific desirable land use futures we found in our analysis that certain policy options brought us close to a specific vision, at least under given assumptions of the socio-economic conditions and policy environment in the future world. But what would happen, if these conditions would not be favourable and this pathway would not be accessible to us? We cannot forecast which of the investigated marker scenarios of our future society will be closest to reality.

Because of this uncertainty, it is advisable to choose robust pathways to the desired land use visions. Robust pathways are suitable under different marker scenario conditions, so that regardless of socio-economic and political developments they would bring us closer to our desired sustainable land use vision. It would be even better, if a pathway could support reaching alternative stakeholder visions. We found two policy alternatives (B2 Greening Europe and B2 Storing more carbon) that represent pathways to both Best Land in Europe and Regional Connected, but none of the pathways led to Local Multifunctional, which would require very different land use pathways.

While all three stakeholder visions incorporate aspects of multifunctional land use – they differ strongly with respect to the scale at which multifunctionality should be achieved. The vision Best Land in Europe implies that we should make best use of the land according to available resources and to satisfy the demand for all services at the European level. This would allow for much greater regional differences compared to the vision Local Multifunctional. Land use traditions are very diverse in Europe and some regions are quite specialised in their land use. This explains why stronger land use change would be required to satisfy multifunctional land use at the local scale. It also becomes evident that no single pathway could simultaneously reach all three identified stakeholder visions.

Because of the diverse land use history (see Learning from the past) and contrasting stakeholder visions we are thus not able to identify only one pathway to the desired sustainable future land use. Each pathway has certain drawbacks and trade-offs. It is crucial to recognise these, for example to avoid that we choose a land use strategy in Europe that exports the sustainability problems to other world regions. It may also be possible that alternative pathways are more suitable in one geographic region in Europe than elsewhere.

 It is important to note that most of the identified pathways assume socio-economic conditions and a policy environment where land use is strongly regulated. Most pathways furthermore include restrictions with regard to land use/cover conversions and management. In other words: in a world with little or no regulations and interventions it is unlikely that the land use desired by stakeholders can be reached.

What we call a pathway to a desired future land use strongly depends on the choice to what extent the agreement between projected and desired land use should apply to a majority of the people and across the European land area. Furthermore, whereas the identified pathways would lead land systems more closely to a desired future, not all impacts are in line with a particular vision and the identification of pathways depends on the trade-offs that society is willing to accept.

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