Landscape futures analysis: Assessing the impacts of environmental targets under alternative spatial policy options and future scenarios

Abstract

Environmental targets are often used in planning for sustainable agricultural landscapes but their impacts are rarely known. In this paper we introduce landscape futures analysis as a method which combines linear programming optimisation with scenario analysis in quantifying the environmental, economic, and social impacts associated with achieving environmental targets, on a landscape scale. We applied the technique in the Lower Murray in southern Australia. Landscape futures models were used to identify specific geographic locations in the landscape for six natural resource management (NRM) actions such that regional environmental targets are achieved. The six potential NRM actions that may be undertaken to achieve environmental targets include remnant vegetation management, ecological restoration, conservation farming, deep-rooted perennials, and the production of biomass and biofuels feedstock for renewable energy generation. We developed landscape futures under four alternative spatial prioritisation policy options and four future climate and commodity price scenarios. The impacts of each landscape future were calculated across a range of environmental, economic, and social indicators. The external drivers, climate change and commodity prices, and internal decisions such as policy options for spatially prioritising NRM actions, both have a strong influence on the costs and benefits of achieving environmental targets. Illustrative results for the cleared agricultural areas in the Mallee region indicate that whilst achieving targets can have substantial environmental benefits, it requires large areas of land use and land management change, and is likely to be costly (up to $348.5 M per year) with flow-on impacts on the regional economy and communities. Environmental targets can be achieved more cost-effectively through spatial planning. Costs can be further reduced if markets are established for carbon, biomass, and biofuels to enable landholders to generate income from undertaking NRM. Landscape futures analysis is an effective tool for supporting the strategic regional NRM policy and planning decisions of how best to set and achieve environmental targets. Conservation and environmental management agencies commonly set targets for guaranteeing minimum levels of natural capital in planning for the sustainability of agricultural landscapes (MacDonald et al., 1999; Carwardine et al., 2009). In Australia and elsewhere, regional agencies have adopted this strong sustainability approach and developed plans for conserving and managing natural capital assets including land, water, and biodiversity, and for addressing climate change (Farrelly and Conacher, 2007). Regional plans typically enumerate a range of environmental targets and propose natural resource management (NRM) actions for their achievement. Achieving environmental targets often requires substantial …

DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2010.03.034

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