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Policy case studies for Environment

Narrative selected

The narrative selected is one of the several that reflected the tensions between environmental protection and food production. It reflects the ongoing discussion on the effect of externalising food production to third countries outside Europe. Externalisation of food production has an effect on the EU food self-sufficiency and entails consequences for the environment. The strategies to promote lowinput agriculture (considered to preserve biodiversity and deliver public goods) and spare land for nature conversation in the EU may enable meeting environmental targets in Europe, but perhaps at the expense of environmental targets of those third countries. The narrative below was taken from one of the interviews and resulted in the following research question: Does externalisation of food production help meeting environmental targets in the EU?

Narrative - Meeting environmental targets in the EU: is externalisation of food production a solution or a problem?

"In order to reach sustainability goals, environmental impacts need to be externalized such as with regard to livestock, with many products being imported from South America. Hence, landscape protection and conservation happens at the expense of degradation of other regions of the world."

The narrative suggest that EU is at the forefront of environmental protection, because it externalises production of food and raw materials for food production to third countries. This has implications on the use of resources (not only natural resources, but also labour and capital) within EU and for the other countries involved. Moreover, this narrative touches on the controversial topic of the role of agriculture in nature conservation, including the land sharing vs. land sparing debate.

Why was this narrative selected »

This narrative was selected based on the prioritisation made by the stakeholders involved in the feedback on the set of five narratives identified and provided by us (see Appendix). The narrative was preferred because of its strong link to the core of current environmental policies aimed at protecting land and promoting biodiversity and nature conservation in the EU. Moreover, it relates to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which the EU is committed, especially SDG15 (life on land), SDG12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG2 (zero hunger); and it relates to the issue of planetary boundaries. Given Europe’s dependency on imported inputs such as feed, the analysis of this narrative was considered particularly useful when focused on agriculture (note the quoted narrative above is with “regard to livestock”). The production of these inputs outside Europe makes it possible to spare land for nature conservation within the EU (land sparing), and/or to promote lowintensive agriculture (land sharing).

The proposed analysis will focus on the options of externalising or internalising agricultural production and consequences on the environment in the EU. This could be done by characterising the metabolic pattern of socio-ecological systems and land uses in the EU under two scenarios: i) the current situation of externalization of food production (high openness of the system and low food self-sufficiency expected) and ii) situation in which food production is internalised. This scenario would bring the discussions about the type of production system to be internalised (i.e. high input or intensive vs. low input or extensive systems), the potential to enhance food self-sufficiency and the consequences for the land use and the environment.

This analysis aims at addressing questions such as: has the EU reduced food self-sufficiency in the last decades? Does it has consequences for the land use and the environment? Would it be possible to internalise food production in the EU? If a full internalization is not possible what is the degree of selfsufficiency in food production and/or circularity of material inputs that would be possible in EU? What would the consequences (impacts) generated on the environment? Would an internalization of agricultural production make it more circular? Or rather would the required intensification require more use of fossil energy based inputs?

When considering the effects of the different options on the environment: What effects an internalization of agricultural production will have on the land use and for nature conservation in the EU? Are there consequences for the third countries? What indicators can be used to assess the consequences on the environment of these large scale scenarios? What would be the role of low external input agriculture or nature conservation sites in the delivery of public goods and services?

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Update on the analysis

The narrative we are analysing related to environmental protection is: “In order to reach sustainability goals, environmental impacts need to be externalized such as with regard to livestock, with many products being imported from South America. Hence, landscape protection and conservation happens at the expense of degradation of other regions of the world.” To test this narrative we have started by studying the main imports and exports of crop products in the EU. This gives us an impression of the magnitude of the trade, its associated land use, the role of livestock production, the (im)possibilities of internalising these imports, and the impact internalisation could have on biodiversity. So far, we have worked on the Netherlands, France, Spain and the EU28 as case studies. Even though this is a rough analysis, it shows that internalisation would in most case studies require substantial land use changes and thereby negatively affect biodiversity. Although there are opportunities to increase yields, more intensive crop production has been associated with lower levels of biodiversity. This links to the land-sparing versus land-sharing debate. Internalising production while maintaining current levels of export and livestock production would further challenge the EU’s ability to reach its commitment to biodiversity goals.