Archive for the ‘Land-use change’ Category

Oil palm expansion in Indonesia: the case for trade-off analyses of ecosystem services

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul present a modelling framework for analysing trade-offs between palm oil production, biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.

Informing policy-makers about these trade-offs is essential in the face of rapidly expanding plantations and the newly established REDD mechanisms (with a possible wildlife premium as discussed here).

Using a scenario-based approach, the authors assessed the consequences of alternative pathways of oil palm expansion on the area of primary and secondary forests, on forest biodiversity (modelled using species-area models), carbon stocks (in biomass and peat soils) and annual rice production capacity. They show that biodiversity and forest conservation are compatible with the expansion of oil palm production, through appropriate selection of planted areas.

Our results suggest that the environmental and land-use tradeoffs associated with oil-palm expansion can be largely avoided through the implementation of a properly planned and spatially explicit development strategy

This rosy conclusion is tempered by the acknowledgement that striking the balance between the goals of biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and palm oil production will require the expansion of oil palm plantations to be capped. Are we really willing to make this “sacrifice”?

The paper by Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul was critiqued by Sean Sloan and Nigel Stork (also in PNAS) for ignoring several spatial processes such as the aggregation of plantations. Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul downplayed the critique and argued for the usefulness of their tool for broad-based analyses of the issues in Indonesia.

Vulnerability, resilience and sustainability

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

In an interesting review paper published in Global Environmental Change, Billie L. Turner outlines the separate trajectories of vulnerability and resilience research and argues that both could “join forces” and contribute to the wider goals of sustainability science. One of his main claims is that this can be done if both fields of enquiry explicitly address trade-offs in ecosystem services.

According to Billie Turner, vulnerability has mainly focused on the effects of abrupt, external changes, on human societies and communities. In doing so, it has generated a strong literature on human adaptation and adaptive capacity (one of the three pillars of vulnerability with exposure and sensitivity). Multiple ecosystem services, and their inherent trade-offs, are however rarely addressed.

On the contrary, while they also investigate the capacity of socio-ecological systems to self-organize and to learn and adapt, most studies of resilience have focused more strongly on the response of ecosystem-level properties to external shocks. In doing so, trade-offs between multiple ecosystem processes and functions are investigated but rarely linked to human well-fare (security, health, material well-being, social relations etc.).

Billie Turner tells us that because decision making actually compares alternatives in terms of human well-fare (in a broad sense), the multiple pathways between it and ecosystem properties – which operate at multiple spatial scales and with multiple underlying values – must be investigated. Trade-off analysis enables us to track such pathways.

Within sustainability science and assisted by researchers working at the interface of research-application and open to multiple explanatory perspectives, efforts have begun that point to improved integration of vulnerability and resilience research.

He concludes that both vulnerability and resilience research would usefully contribute to furthering our understanding of trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services in a manner conductive to decision-making and sustainability.

Ecosystem services and the greening of the CAP

Friday, December 31st, 2010

The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will soon be reformed. The European Commission has already made several propositions, summarized here and explained here (pdf).

In a general context of decreasing subsidies, the EU commission has outlined three contrasting scenarios for the post 2013 CAP. These scenarios variously mix direct payments, market-instruments and rural development schemes. Whichever scenario finally unfolds, direct payments will be (totally or in part) justified on the basis of environmental public goods (together with stronger eco-conditionality). This is the greening of the CAP!

Christian Deverre and Christine de Sainte Marie analysed this greening in a very interesting article (which is unfortunately only available in French). Although they refer a lot to current agricultural policy in Switzerland, their insight is very relevant to the EU.

C. Deverre and C. de Sainte Marie recognize that the greening of the CAP is only nascent and that the institutions that govern the farming sector are still built around 1960s modernization goals. They also anticipate two important consequences to further greening of the CAP:

  • The increasing need for a detailed assessment of the environmental public goods that farmers provide. The ecosystem service concept is well suited to framing these assessments and will no doubt be strengthened by the coming reform
  • The risk of further “off shoring” of environmental degradations caused by producing food for the European market in other countries (because greening production in Europe implies reducing production levels)
  • In Nagoya, Europe agreed to end, reduce or reform economic incentives that negatively impact biodiversity (including farming subsidies). The CAP reform is an important tool for facing up to this challenge. In this context, it appears clearly necessary to better characterize the effects of farming practices on ecosystem services, at different scales of analysis: from the parcel to the landscape, both in Europe and beyond.