Integrated carbon, water and land management for poverty alleviation
Ecosystem services can and should be related to carbon management, in combination with sustainable water and land management.
The global nature of climate change mitigation provides opportunities for developing countries to alleviate poverty by capitalizing on their natural resources and trading on the international carbon markets. Such opportunities may arise from biotic carbon sequestration through reforestation or biofuel production.
However, the changes in land-use that result from any such initiatives may be detrimental to ecosystem services, such as biodiversity, water quality and water availability. In the long term, changes in climate and population may worsen these impacts, rendering such land management initiatives unsustainable from both biophysical and socio-economic standpoints.
Land use change initiatives should therefore be assessed in a framework that incorporates climate and socio-economic change, in order to identify those that have the potential to alleviate poverty in the long term, and discount those that are likely to worsen the problem.
The extensive existing work on land management has yielded much valuable data on energy crop physiology, the economic implications of different land management strategies, the observed effects of land management on ecosystem services, and best practice for implementing land management projects.
Parallel to this, there has been much work on land surface feedbacks, the water cycle, regional climate variability and change, which has involved the development of state-of-the-art climate, land surface, hydrological and crop models.
This project brought these strands of research together to investigate the sustainability of land management initiatives in a changing climate. Existing tools, informed by published data, were combined into a modeling framework and applied to a series of scenarios involving intensive cultivation of sugar cane.
Specifically, the following three issues were addressed:
- The feasibility and sustainability (economic and physical) of sugarcane cultivation for biofuel production in a changing climate, and the capacity of such activities to alleviate poverty in the long term
- The long term impact of land management on ecosystem services, with particular focus on the effect on water availability
- Land surface - climate feedbacks, and their impact on the sustainability of land management initiatives and existing land use.
The modeling was applied to sugarcane cultivation in Brazil and Ghana. Brazil had a well-established sugarcane industry that already provided substantial employment and income. The dependence of large parts of the country on biofuel production made the industry's long-term economic viability a pressing issue. Although production was not limited by water availability, it could well be in the future due to changing environmental conditions.
Ghana was chosen for the other case study because it was on the verge of becoming a major player in the bio-ethanol market, as a result of the agreement signed with Brazilian partners in 2006 to grow bio-energy crops. The prospect of exporting biofuel technology from Brazil to Africa raised urgent questions about environmental sustainability and the capacity of energy crop cultivation initiatives to alleviate poverty.
In particular, there was a pressing need for rigorous assessment of the delicate balance between yield (and hence profitability), irrigation, water resources and the livelihoods of local people.
The project was primarily a proof of concept, with the main focus on developing a modeling framework and engaging with researchers in Ghana and Brazil, in order to apply it in a useful and informative way. It should be emphasized, however, that the framework was equally applicable to other energy and food crops, such as Jatropha curcas and can be applied to any region of the world.
- Impact Story: 'Sugar Rush'
- Conference paper abstract: The environmental sustainability of sugarcane cultivation - case studies for Brazil and Ghana