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Social Equity, Land Use Planning, and Flood Mitigation  

Malini Roy and Philip Berke

Every flood event reveals hidden disparities within cities—disparities in capacities to anticipate, respond to, and recover from disasters. Studies examining drivers of disparity have found that highly socially vulnerable (e.g., poor, minority) neighborhoods sustain more damage, have access to fewer recovery resources, and experience slower recovery. Climate change and unregulated growth are likely to exacerbate these disparities. Scholars argue that disparities along the lines of race and income are partly due to inadequate planning. Planning for flood mitigation has lacked a deep understanding of values and has therefore overlooked needs and exacerbated physical vulnerability in socially vulnerable neighborhoods. Increasing local and international attention to the socioeconomic drivers of disaster impacts elicits the question: How can land use planning foster more equitable hazard mitigation practices that meet the needs identified by marginalized communities? Equitable hazard mitigation is advanced through three dimensions. First, contextual equity involves preparing an information base that asks who is vulnerable to flooding, who has (not) been engaged in planning decisions that affect vulnerability to flooding, and why. Recognizing contextual inequities in plans is the first step to making visible historic discrimination and addressing drivers of persisting political disenfranchisement. Second, procedural equity involves organizing a participation process that critically considers whom participation processes should target, how stakeholders should be inclusively engaged, and how multiple values should inform policy priorities. Dedicated planning-participation processes can repair past legacies of power information imbalances and co-produce planning goals. A process where vulnerable, marginalized citizens have as much information and as much say in policy decisions as others adds nuance to planners’ understanding of needs, and enables the incorporation of overlooked values into distribution of land use policies. Third, distributional equity involves designing planning policies so that flood mitigation services and infrastructure are directed to neighborhoods and households most in need. Moreover, distributional equity considerations need to be integrated across the local government plans (e.g., transportation plan, housing plan, and hazard mitigation plan) that affect growth in hazardous areas. Social equity outcomes further rely on the degree of knowledge transfer between the three dimensions. The effectiveness of distributional equity is critically dependent on contextual and procedural equity and affects how plan outcomes align with the needs and values of disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Likewise, the scope of contextual equity is shaped by historical distributional and procedural equity or lack thereof. To advance equitable outcomes, more research is required on the implementation and effectiveness of different land use planning approaches. Future inquiries should examine social equity through a multihazard lens; empirically analyze the causal relationships among the contextual, procedural, and distributional equity; and explore the effectiveness of different planning tools and governance structures in fostering socially equitable hazard mitigation.


Deforestation: Drivers, Implications, and Policy Responses  

Christiane W. Runyan and Jeff Stehm

Over the last 8,000 years, cumulative forest loss amounted to approximately 2.2 billion hectares, reducing forest cover from about 47% of Earth’s land surface to roughly 30% in 2015. These losses mostly occurred in tropical forests (58%), followed by boreal (27%) and temperate forests (8%). The rate of loss has slowed from 7.3 Mha/year between 1990–2000 to 3.3 Mha/year between 2010–2015. Globally since the 1980s, the net loss in the tropics has been outweighed by a net gain in the subtropical, temperate, and boreal climate zones. Deforestation is driven by a number of complex direct and indirect factors. Agricultural expansion (both commercial and subsistence) is the primary driver, followed by mining, infrastructure extension, and urban expansion. In turn, population and economic growth drive the demand for agricultural, mining, and timber products as well as supporting infrastructure. Population growth and changing consumer preferences, for instance, will increase global food demand 50% by 2050, possibly requiring a net increase of approximately 70 million ha of arable land under cultivation. This increase is unlikely to be offset entirely by agricultural intensification due to limits on yield increases and land quality. Deforestation is also affected by other factors such as land tenure uncertainties, poor governance, low capacity of public forestry agencies, and inadequate planning and monitoring. Forest loss has a number of environmental, economic, and social implications. Forests provide an expansive range of environmental benefits across local, regional, and global scales, including: hydrological benefits (e.g., regulating water supply and river discharge), climate benefits (e.g., precipitation recycling, regulating local and global temperature, and carbon sequestration), biogeochemical benefits (e.g., enhancing nutrient availability and reducing nutrient losses), biodiversity benefits, and the support of ecosystem stability and resiliency. The long-term loss of forest resources also negatively affects societies and economies. The forest sector in 2011 contributed roughly 0.9% of global GDP or USD 600 billion. About 850 million people globally live in forest ecosystems, with an estimated 350 million people entirely dependent on forest ecosystems for their livelihoods. Understanding how to best manage remaining forest resources in order to preserve their unique qualities will be a challenge that requires an integrated set of policy responses. Developing and implementing effective policies will require a better understanding of the socio-ecological dynamics of forests, a more accurate and timely ability to measure and monitor forest resources, sound methodologies to assess the effectiveness of policies, and more efficacious methodologies for valuing trade-offs between competing objectives.


Agricultural Subsidies and the Environment  

Heather Williams

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.


Changes in Land Use Influenced by Anthropogenic Activity  

Lang Wang and Zong-Liang Yang

The terms “land cover” and “land use” are often used interchangeably, although they have different meanings. Land cover is the biophysical material at the surface of the Earth, whereas land use refers to how people use the land surface. Land use concerns the resources of the land, their products, and benefits, in addition to land management actions and activities. The history of changes in land use has passed through several major stages driven by developments in science and technology and demands for food, fiber, energy, and shelter. Modern changes in land use have been increasingly affected by anthropogenic activities at a scale and magnitude that have not been seen. These changes in land use are largely driven by population growth, urban expansion, increasing demands for energy and food, changes in diets and lifestyles, and changing socioeconomic conditions. About 70% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has been altered by changes in land use, and these changes have had environmental impacts worldwide, ranging from effects on the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate to the extensive modification of terrestrial ecosystems, habitats, and biodiversity. A number of different methods have been developed give a thorough understanding of these changes in land use and the multiple effects and feedbacks involved. Earth system observations and models are examples of two crucial technologies, although there are considerable uncertainties in both techniques. Cross-disciplinary collaborations are highly desirable in future studies of land use and management. The goals of mitigating climate change and maintaining sustainability should always be considered before implementing any new land management strategies.