Human land use has placed enormous pressure on natural resources and ecosystems worldwide and may even prompt socio-ecological collapses under some circumstances. Efforts to avoid such collapses are hampered by a lack of knowledge about when they may occur and how they may be prevented. Computational models that illuminate potential future developments in the land system are invaluable tools in this context. While such models are widely used to project biophysical changes, they are currently less able to explore the social dynamics that will be key aspects of future global change. As a result, strategies for navigating a hazardous future may suffer from “blind spots” at which individual, social and political behaviours divert the land system away from predicted pathways.
We apply CRAFTY-EU, an agent-based model of the European land system, in order to investigate the effects of human behavioural aspects of land management at the continental scale. We explore a range of potential futures using climatic and socio-economic scenarios and present a coherent set of cross-sectoral projections without imposed equilibria or optimisation. These projections include various behavioural responses to scenarios including non-economic motivations, aversion to change and heterogeneity in decision-making. ... mehrWe find that social factors and behavioural responses have dramatic impacts on simulated dynamics and can contribute to a breakdown of the land system's essential functions in which shortfalls in food production of up to 56 % emerge. These impacts are largely distinct from, and at least as large as, those of projected climatic change. We conclude that the socio-economic aspects of future scenarios require far more detailed and varied treatment. In particular, deviation from simple economic rationality at individual and aggregate scales may profoundly alter the nature of land system development and the achievability of policy goals.