European Union agri-environmental policies: Conservation strategy or risk for global erosion regulation

Sebastian Arnhold1, Nikolaus McLachlan1, Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer2, Thomas Koellner1
1 Professorship of Ecological Services, University of Bayreuth
2 Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

O 2.3 in Understanding Ecosystem Services: Geoecological processes/functions with value for the society

12.10.2017, 11:30-11:45, H36, NW III

Soils are among the most valuable natural resources, but have become subject to enormous pressure due to degradation. Thus, erosion regulation is one of the most crucial ecosystem services (ES) that requires high priority in agri-environmental policies. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union (EU) strives towards sustainable agriculture, implementing production standards to improve ES provisioning throughout its territory. However, recently introduced Greening measures mandate the transformation of cropland and are likely to reduce production within the EU, requiring additional imports as compensation. This work investigates potential global losses of erosion regulation generated by this policy-induced leakage effect. We combine land footprint accounting with soil erosion modeling to derive a “soil footprint” indicator that depicts the amount of soil loss embodied in traded goods imported into the EU. Our results show that the total external soil footprint of the EU potentially induced by raised imports far exceeds the potential domestic benefits of erosion regulation. Major reasons for this tremendous difference are: substantially higher erosion rates in many of the exporting countries compared to those within the EU, as well as significantly lower yields that require more land abroad than domestically preserved through Greening measures. These findings demonstrate that the potential negative impacts induced globally by leakage can clearly outweigh regional benefits, and thus, considerably higher emphasis must be placed in EU policies on ES gains and losses outside its territory. Our results exhibit high variations in the vulnerability to erosion both between and within exporting countries, which indicates large potentials for the EU to contribute to global erosion regulation, in particular, through better targeted trade networks and policies that prioritize more resilient areas and support sustainable production in exporting countries.

Keywords: Common Agricultural Policy, global trade, Greening, food production, soil footprint, water erosion

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