The landscapes of Europe have altered rapidly over the last few decades. In the past 50 years we have seen significant and unprecedented human impacts on our landscapes. We desperately need a vision for a more sustainable future land use. The European VOLANTE project designed a roadmap for future land resource management in Europe, and successfully presented this to 75 policymakers in Brussels 21 April. Representatives from the European Commission, NGO’s, professional organisations and national and regional institutions confirmed the timeliness of the endeavour: although there exists no land use policy in the EU nor in many of its member states, numerous existing policies have important unintended effects on land use.
Mairead McGuinness MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament, stated in her key note on 21 April: ”The three visions that emerge from this exercise ... are each interesting and worth exploring. Our roots are in our land. But we need to plan for its future. And we need to give signals about what we really want and how we can achieve it in the EU, against the background of an increasingly globalised world.“ To safeguard sustainable land management in Europe, Mrs McGuinnesss stressed the importance of the family farm model, which is at the heart of EU and global food production, but faces a sometimes uncertain future.
On behalf of the Latvian Presidency of the European Council, Ms Indra Ciukša, Counsellor of the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Latvia to the EU, welcomed the designed roadmap as significant source for future land use policy development across the Europe. Ms Indra Ciukša highlighted the importance of cross-sectoral involvement and engagement with different stakeholders in land use management, also acknowledged multifunctionality, resource efficiency and the provision of services in rural areas as significant elements for future land use.
The VOLANTE project started from the premise that in Europe we have entered a critical decision space in the management of our landscapes: a window of several decades within which it is still possible to avoid crossing planetary boundaries. We live in a Europe that is facing many challenges and changing aspirations. It is imperative to explore alternative visions of a more sustainable future land use, and evaluate the pathways that can lead us there. This implies managing natural capital to ensure the continued provision of ecosystem services into the future. Therefore the international project team* led by Alterra Wageningen UR designed the VOLANTE Roadmap, the way to a future Europe that manages its land resources better to achieve the necessary societal and environmental goals.
The roadmap comprises three visions of future land use in Europe derived from consultations with a wide range of European stakeholders: ‘Best land in Europe’ (optimal use of land resources), ‘Regional connected’ (living closer to the natural environment), and ‘Local multifunctional’ (self-sufficiency of local communities). Extensive scientific analysis reveals that under the current socio-economic and policy conditions, none of these visions can be achieved without the need for trade-offs. ‘Local multifunctional’ seems the most challenging vision to achieve without a thorough transformation in society and decision-making processes, underpinned by individual behavioural change. ‘Best land in Europe’ would supply the greatest quantity of ecosystem services on a continental scale, but remote rural areas would struggle to support local communities unless land use and economic activities were restructured, for example by moving away from a dependence on agriculture to new rural businesses that require new infrastructure. ‘Regional connected’ would require strong regional governance and regulation and a broad acceptance of this by society.
The VOLANTE Roadmap represents a process for sustainable management of future land resources. Despite major contrasts between the three visions, there are important similarities. For the future of our landscapes we highlight the need for bold and coordinated change in European land use. This requires targeted policy intervention that takes account of the diverse regional contexts across Europe and that balances trade-offs in a transparent and well-informed way. To be effective and relevant, such policies also require cross-sectoral strategies for land use and management that depart from the traditional focus on sectoral policy. The incentive for such strategies is that European land resources will be used more efficiently, providing a wider range of benefits, including a better environment, enhanced socio-economic wellbeing, and ultimately a more equitable European society.
* Comprising Alterra and LEI WUR (NL), Univ. Edinburgh (UK), Institute Social Ecology (AT), VU Univ. Amsterdam (NL), PIK-Potsdam (DE), Univ. Copenhagen (DK), European Forest Institute (int.), CNRS Grenoble (FR), Univ. of the Aegean (GR), Univ. Bucharest (RO), Joint Research Centre, Ispra (int.), Humboldt Univ. Berlin (DE), NERI Aarhus (DK), Prospex (BE).