Newsletter No 1 March 2010

New approaches for analyzing land use and environmental impacts with integrated models


Prof. dr. Peter Verburg

4 cluescannerMany environmental issues are the result of processes operating across different scales. Climate change is caused by local emissions and global feedbacks within the climate system. Adaptations to global change are made locally while policies to support such adaptations are to be coordinated at national, European or global levels.

To support decision making on environmental issues, methods are needed focusing not only on local processes but also accounting for feedbacks over larger scales.

In recent years new approaches for integrated assessment have become available based on a dynamic coupling of different models at different scales. The coupling of existing models has advantages over large integrated assessment models accounting for the whole system within one single model. By coupling models across different scales the most recent developments within the different models and disciplines can be used. This approach also avoids the construction of highly complex models that are difficult to manage and maintain.

Land use change is a very central issue, affecting many different aspects of environmental change. Therefore, the simulation of land use change can provide a platform for assessment of the impacts of global change on the environment. While overall patterns of land use change are determined by demands for residential, industrial and agricultural land, the spatial location of changes is dependent on the spatial variation in local conditions and context. The impact of land use change on landscape and environment depends on the location of change, e.g. deforestation on steep slopes may have more severe impacts than deforestation in lowland areas.

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IVM researchers have contributed to analyzing the interactions between land use change and environmental impacts in several recent projects and in joint cooperation with other faculties, universities and research institutes. Most of these projects use, a combination of macro-economic modeling, land use modeling and environmental impact assessment. While macro-economic models can assess the effects of policy, demographic change and other processes, the level of spatial detail is mostly restricted to world regions or large administrative regions. The recently developed CLUE-Scanner model can downscale such coarse-scale changes into more detailed geographic patterns. Based on these patterns various models can be used to analyze the environmental impacts.

The wide coverage of scales and disciplines within the integrated approach makes the analysis of trade-offs possible. Such trade-offs may include the land use effects of European policies, such as the biofuel directive, for regions outside Europe. Likewise, the approach allows to trade-off local effects to the impacts for larger regions and compare economic effects with environmental impacts. Recent applications of the framework have analyzed agricultural policies, mandatory biofuel blending as well as the land use impact of biodiversity directives and especially the consequences of adaptation measures to climate change.

The experience of IVM with integrating models originating from different disciplines makes a wide range of ex-ante assessments and scenario studies possible.

Contact information: Prof. dr. Peter Verburg

More information:

Verburg, P., Eickhout, B. and van Meijl, H., 2008. A multi-scale, multi-model approach for analyzing the future dynamics of European land use. The Annals of Regional Science, 42:57-77.

Verburg, P., van Berkel, D., van Doorn, A., van Eupen, M. and van den Heiligenberg, H., 2010. Trajectories of land use change in Europe: a model-based exploration of rural futures. Landscape Ecology 25: 217-232.