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Worldwide, governments subsidize agriculture at the rate of approximately 1 billion dollars per day. This figure rises to about twice that when export and biofuels production subsidies and state financing for dams and river basin engineering are included. These policies guide land use in numerous ways, including growers’ choices of crop and buyers’ demand for commodities. The three types of state subsidies that shape land use and the environment are land settlement programs, price and income supports, and energy and emissions initiatives. Together these subsidies have created perennial surpluses in global stores of cereal grains, cotton, and dairy, with production increases outstripping population growth. Subsidies to land settlement, to crop prices, and to processing and refining of cereals and fiber, therefore, can be shown to have independent and largely deleterious effect on soil fertility, fresh water supplies, biodiversity, and atmospheric carbon.

Article

Kimberly M. Carlson and Rachael D. Garrett

Oil crops play a critical role in global food and energy systems. Since these crops have high oil content, they provide cooking oils for human consumption, biofuels for energy, feed for animals, and ingredients in beauty products and industrial processes. In 2014, oil crops occupied about 20% of crop harvested area worldwide. While small-scale oil crop production for subsistence or local consumption continues in certain regions, global demand for these versatile crops has led to substantial expansion of oil crop agriculture destined for export or urban markets. This expansion and subsequent cultivation has diverse effects on the environment, including loss of forests, savannas, and grasslands, greenhouse gas emissions, regional climate change, biodiversity decline, fire, and altered water quality and hydrology. Oil palm in Southeast Asia and soybean in South America have been identified as major proximate causes of tropical deforestation and environmental degradation. Stringent conservation policies and yield increases are thought to be critical to reducing rates of soybean and oil palm expansion into natural ecosystems. However, the higher profits that often accompany greater yields may encourage further expansion, while policies that restrict oil crop expansion in one region may generate secondary “spillover” effects on other crops and regions. Due to these complex feedbacks, ensuring a sustainable supply of oil crop products to meet global demand remains a major challenge for agricultural companies, farmers, governments, and civil society.

Article

Thomas Rudel

Forest transitions take place when trends over time in forest cover shift from deforestation to reforestation. These transitions are of immense interest to researchers because the shift from deforestation to reforestation brings with it a range of environmental benefits. The most important of these would be an increased volume of sequestered carbon, which if large enough would slow climate change. This anticipated atmospheric effect makes the circumstances surrounding forest transitions of immediate interest to policymakers in the climate change era. This encyclopedia entry outlines these circumstances. It begins by describing the socio-ecological foundations of the first forest transitions in western Europe. Then it discusses the evolution of the idea of a forest transition, from its introduction in 1990 to its latest iteration in 2019. This discussion describes the proliferation of different paths through the forest transition. The focus then shifts to a discussion of the primary driver of the 20th-century forest transitions, economic development, in its urbanizing, industrializing, and globalizing forms. The ecological dimension of the forest transition becomes the next focus of the discussion. It describes the worldwide redistribution of forests toward more upland settings. Climate change since 2000, with its more extreme ecological events in the form of storms and droughts, has obscured some ongoing forest transitions. The final segment of this entry focuses on the role of the state in forest transitions. States have become more proactive in managing forest transitions. This tendency became more marked after 2010 as governments have searched for ways to reduce carbon emissions or to offset emissions through more carbon sequestration. The forest transitions by promoting forest expansion would contribute additional carbon offsets to a nation’s carbon budget. For this reason, the era of climate change could also see an expansion in the number of promoted forest transitions.

Article

Claudia Sadoff, David Grey, and Edoardo Borgomeo

Water security has emerged in the 21st century as a powerful construct to frame the water objectives and goals of human society and to support and guide local to global water policy and management. Water security can be described as the fundamental societal goal of water policy and management. This article reviews the concept of water security, explaining the differences between water security and other approaches used to conceptualize the water-related challenges facing society and ecosystems and describing some of the actions needed to achieve water security. Achieving water security requires addressing two fundamental challenges at all scales: enhancing water’s productive contributions to human and ecosystems’ well-being, livelihoods and development, and minimizing water’s destructive impacts on societies, economies, and ecosystems resulting, for example, from too much (flood), too little (drought) or poor quality (polluted) water.