We have looked at ecosystem services provision within agricultural landscapes in a couple of different contexts on the Landscapes Blog. Today, Dr. Tobias Plieninger, Head of the Ecosystem Services Research Group at the Berlin-Brandenberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Germany, provides a European policy perspective on the topic. It calls for a more integrated and spatially-specific approach to agri-environmental policy and incentives.
Agricultural landscapes are vital for supplying ecosystem services to human society, but most modern farming practices detrimentally impact the environment. Public agricultural support policies have been critically important in shaping the transformation of agriculture and agricultural landscapes. The largest agricultural support system worldwide, the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has now come to a critical point. Major decisions concerning its design and implementation after 2013 are about to be taken. In a policy paper that appears today in Conservation Letters, a team of German scientists argues that the debate on this reform process should be used to trigger a transition from commodity-based subsidy policies to those centered on efficient provision of ecosystem services from agricultural landscapes.
In their essay, Mainstreaming ecosystem services through reformed European agricultural policies, the authors from the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Freiburg University, and Ecologic Institute note:
“Agricultural support schemes represent potentially powerful instruments for the provision of ecosystem services at a financial scale far above any other payment schemes for ecosystem services, including global carbon markets. But so far, most support schemes have not been targeted to effectively enhance ecosystem services beyond agricultural commodities.”
One of the most important reform proposals of the European Commission is to dedicate 30% of direct payments to “greening” measures, which are supposed to deliver environmental and climate benefits as part of farming activities. This is considered a landmark decision and involves an estimated rise from US$3.9 billion to US$11.8 billion in payments for ecosystem services expenditures within the CAP. However, the paper argues that the proposed underlying policy mechanisms are too simplistic in their design and ignore the science of ecosystem services. In order to effectively enhance ecosystem services from farmland, the authors recommend orientation along the following key insights from ecosystem services research:
- Agricultural support must be linked to verifiable provision of ecosystem services and thus to benefits for human well-being.
- Nonmarket valuation methods schemes must be fostered for balanced provision of all ecosystem services categories.
- Payments must be designed to foster multiple bundles of ecosystem services to minimize trade-offs.
- Targets must be defined regionally, respecting the site-specificity of ecosystem services provision.
- Payments must match the spatial scales of ecosystem services provision through collective management at landscape scale.
- Payments for ecosystem services require a long-term funding perspective and performance-based co-financing strategies.
- Payments for ecosystem services must be periodically evaluated to tackle uncertainties in ecosystem provision through adaptive management.
- Payments for ecosystem services must be coherent with other policies to avoid competing incentives.
The authors conclude: “It is now time to amend the Commission’s proposals through more serious consideration of ecosystem services insights, notably in regard to the implementation of the Commission’s proposed measures. If this succeeds, the reform process bears the potential to become an exemplar for redirecting farm policies elsewhere in the world toward sustainability. In particular, it might productively inform the renewal of the U.S. Farm Bill, for which major reforms toward more sustainable agricultural systems have been likewise proposed.”
Read the article in Conservation Letters