Ex ante impact assessment of land use changes in European regions — the SENSOR approach

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Abstract

Land use includes those human activities that exhibit a spatial dimension and that change the bio-geophysical conditions of land. Land use policy making at European level aims at fostering sustainability pathways of natural resource use and rural development through the decoupling of economic growth from environmental degradation while supporting social cohesion in rural areas. Targeted policy making requires tools for the ex ante assessment of impacts of policy driven land use changes on sustainable development opportunities in European regions. These tools have to cover all relevant land use sectors and impact issues including their interrelations. They have to be spatially explicit, allow scenario analysis of possible future developments, be based on reproducible analyses, and be transparent and easy to use. The European Commission funded Integrated Project SENSOR is dedicated to develop such ex-ante Sustainability Impact Assessment Tools (SIAT) for land use in European regions. SIAT is designed as a meta modelling toolkit, in which global economic trend and policy scenarios are translated into land use changes at 1km2 grid resolution for the area of Europe. Based on qualitative and quantitative indicator analyses, impacts of simulated land use changes on social, environmental and economic sustainability issues are assessed at regional (NUTS2/3) scale. Valuation of these impacts is based on the concept of multifunctionality of land use. It is conducted through expert and stakeholder valuations leading to the determination of sustainability choice spaces for European regions. This paper presents the analytical approach in SENSOR and describes the impact assessment framework.