Estimating impacts of climate change policy on land use: an agent-based modelling approach

PLoS One. 2015 May 21;10(5):e0127317. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0127317. eCollection 2015.


Agriculture is important to New Zealand's economy. Like other primary producers, New Zealand strives to increase agricultural output while maintaining environmental integrity. Utilising modelling to explore the economic, environmental and land use impacts of policy is critical to understand the likely effects on the sector. Key deficiencies within existing land use and land cover change models are the lack of heterogeneity in farmers and their behaviour, the role that social networks play in information transfer, and the abstraction of the global and regional economic aspects within local-scale approaches. To resolve these issues we developed the Agent-based Rural Land Use New Zealand model. The model utilises a partial equilibrium economic model and an agent-based decision-making framework to explore how the cumulative effects of individual farmer's decisions affect farm conversion and the resulting land use at a catchment scale. The model is intended to assist in the development of policy to shape agricultural land use intensification in New Zealand. We illustrate the model, by modelling the impact of a greenhouse gas price on farm-level land use, net revenue, and environmental indicators such as nutrient losses and soil erosion for key enterprises in the Hurunui and Waiau catchments of North Canterbury in New Zealand. Key results from the model show that farm net revenue is estimated to increase over time regardless of the greenhouse gas price. Net greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to decline over time, even under a no GHG price baseline, due to an expansion of forestry on low productivity land. Higher GHG prices provide a greater net reduction of emissions. While social and geographic network effects have minimal impact on net revenue and environmental outputs for the catchment, they do have an effect on the spatial arrangement of land use and in particular the clustering of enterprises.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Climate Change*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • New Zealand
  • Policy*

Grant support

FM and AD were supported by Landcare Research through their Capability Fund (CF1112-83-02 and CF1011-83-11). FM was also supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment under the “Building biodiversity into an ecosystem service-based approach for resource management” project (C09X1307). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.