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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  06 Aug 2020

06 Aug 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal ESD.

How model paradigms affect our representation of future land-use change

Calum Brown1, Ian Holman2, and Mark Rounsevell1,3 Calum Brown et al.
  • 1Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Kreuzeckbahnstraße 19, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 2School of Water, Energy and Environment, Cranfield University, Vincent Building, Bedford MK43 0AL, UK
  • 3School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK

Abstract. Land use models operating at regional to global scales are almost exclusively based on the single paradigm of economic optimisation. Models based on different paradigms are known to produce very different results, but these are not always equivalent or attributable to particular assumptions. In this study, we compare two pan-European land use models that are based on the same integrated modelling framework and utilise the same climatic and socio-economic scenarios, but which adopt fundamentally different model paradigms. One of these is a constrained optimising economic-equilibrium model and the other is a stochastic agent-based model. We run both models for a range of scenario combinations and compare their projections of spatial and aggregate land use change and ecosystem service supply. We find that the agent-based model projects more multifunctional and heterogeneous landscapes in most scenarios, providing a wider range of ecosystem services at landscape scales, as agents make individual, time-dependent decisions that reflect economic and non-economic motivations. This tendency also results in food shortages under certain scenario conditions. The optimisation model, in contrast, maintains food supply through intensification of agricultural production in the most profitable areas, sometimes at the expense of active management in large, contiguous parts of Europe. We relate the principal differences observed to underlying model assumptions, and hypothesise that optimisation may be appropriate in scenarios that allow for coherent political and economic control of land systems, but not in scenarios where economic and other scenario conditions prevent the normal functioning of price signals and responses. In these circumstances, agent-based modelling allows explicit consideration of behavioural processes, but in doing so provides a highly flexible account of land system development that is harder to link to underlying assumptions. We suggest that structured comparisons of parallel, transparent but paradigmatically distinct models are an important method for better understanding the potential scope and uncertainties of future land use change.

Calum Brown et al.

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Calum Brown et al.

Calum Brown et al.


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