Trade-offs between ecosystem services: Water and carbon in a biodiversity hotspot
Carbon sequestration by afforestation can help mitigate global climate change but may have adverse environmental and economic impacts in some regions. For example, economic incentives for carbon sequestration may encourage the expansion of Pinus radiata timber plantations in the Fynbos biome of South Africa, with negative consequences for water supply and biodiversity. I built a dynamic ecological-economic model to investigate whether afforestation of a Fynbos catchment with Pinus radiata is economically viable when the potential benefits of carbon sequestration and timber production are balanced against the losses to water supply. I found that afforestation appears viable to the forestry industry under current water tariffs and current carbon accounting legislation, but would appear unviable if the forestry industry were to pay the true cost of water used by the plantations. I also found that under various plausible future economic scenarios, afforestation can be associated with either large future economic gains or losses, suggesting a need for future analyses based on branches of decision theory that deal with severe uncertainty. I conclude with a general recommendation that climate legislation should be explicit about the conditions under which afforestation for carbon sequestration of native vegetation is a legitimate climate mitigation strategy.
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