Research ArticleAGRICULTURE

Bigger is better: Improved nature conservation and economic returns from landscape-level mitigation

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Science Advances  01 Jul 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 7, e1501021
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501021

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Impact mitigation is a primary mechanism on which countries rely to reduce environmental externalities and balance development with conservation. Mitigation policies are transitioning from traditional project-by-project planning to landscape-level planning. Although this larger-scale approach is expected to provide greater conservation benefits at the lowest cost, empirical justification is still scarce. Using commercial sugarcane expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado as a case study, we apply economic and biophysical steady-state models to quantify the benefits of the Brazilian Forest Code (FC) under landscape- and property-level planning. We find that FC compliance imposes small costs to business but can generate significant long-term benefits to nature: supporting 32 (±37) additional species (largely habitat specialists), storing 593,000 to 2,280,000 additional tons of carbon worth $69 million to $265 million ($ pertains to U.S. dollars), and marginally improving surface water quality. Relative to property-level compliance, we find that landscape-level compliance reduces total business costs by $19 million to $35 million per 6-year sugarcane growing cycle while often supporting more species and storing more carbon. Our results demonstrate that landscape-level mitigation provides cost-effective conservation and can be used to promote sustainable development.

  • Impact mitigation
  • land-use policy
  • land-use planning
  • landscape conservation
  • agricultural expansion
  • biodiversity
  • ecosystem services

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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