Land-use protection for climate change mitigation

Abstract

Land-use change, mainly the conversion of tropical forests to agricultural land, is a massive source of carbon emissions and contributes substantially to global warming1,2,3. Therefore, mechanisms that aim to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation are widely discussed. A central challenge is the avoidance of international carbon leakage if forest conservation is not implemented globally4. Here, we show that forest conservation schemes, even if implemented globally, could lead to another type of carbon leakage by driving cropland expansion in non-forested areas that are not subject to forest conservation schemes (non-forest leakage). These areas have a smaller, but still considerable potential to store carbon5,6. We show that a global forest policy could reduce carbon emissions by 77 Gt CO2, but would still allow for decreases in carbon stocks of non-forest land by 96 Gt CO2 until 2100 due to non-forest leakage effects. Furthermore, abandonment of agricultural land and associated carbon uptake through vegetation regrowth is hampered. Effective mitigation measures thus require financing structures and conservation investments that cover the full range of carbon-rich ecosystems. However, our analysis indicates that greater agricultural productivity increases would be needed to compensate for such restrictions on agricultural expansion.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Change in global land pools.
Figure 2: Cumulative global carbon dynamics over the twenty-first century.

References

  1. 1

    Van der Werf, G. R. et al. CO2 emissions from forest loss. Nature Geosci. 2, 737–738 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Pan, Y. et al. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world’s forests. Science 333, 988–993 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Houghton, R. A. et al. Carbon emissions from land use and land-cover change. Biogeosciences 9, 5125–5142 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Ebeling, J. & Yasué, M. Generating carbon finance through avoided deforestation and its potential to create climatic, conservation and human development benefits. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 363, 1917–1924 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Don, A., Schumacher, J. & Freibauer, A. Impact of tropical land-use change on soil organic carbon stocks—a meta-analysis. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 1658–1670 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Baccini, A. et al. Estimated carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation improved by carbon-density maps. Nature Clim. Change 2, 182–185 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Kindermann, G. et al. Global cost estimates of reducing carbon emissions through avoided deforestation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 10302–10307 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Nepstad, D. C., Boyd, W., Stickler, C. M., Bezerra, T. & Azevedo, A. A. Responding to climate change and the global land crisis: REDD +, market transformation and low-emissions rural development. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 368, 20120167 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Ghazoul, J., Butler, R. A., Mateo-Vega, J. & Koh, L. P. REDD: A reckoning of environment and development implications. Trends Ecol. Evol. 25, 396–402 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Gardner, T. A. et al. A framework for integrating biodiversity concerns into national REDD + programmes. Biol. Conserv. 154, 61–71 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Lambin, E. F. & Meyfroidt, P. Global land use change, economic globalization, and the looming land scarcity. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 3465–3472 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Gan, J. & McCarl, B. A. Measuring transnational leakage of forest conservation. Ecol. Econ. 64, 423–432 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Miles, L. & Kapos, V. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation: Global land-use implications. Science 320, 1454–1455 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Smith, P. Land use change and soil organic carbon dynamics. Nutr. Cycl. Agroecosys. 81, 169–178 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Guo, L. B. & Gifford, R. M. Soil carbon stocks and land use change: A meta analysis. Glob. Change Biol. 8, 345–360 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Popp, A. et al. Land-use transition for bioenergy and climate stabilization: Model comparison of drivers, impacts and interactions with other land use based mitigation options. Climatic Change 123, 495–509 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Wise, M. et al. Implications of limiting CO2 concentrations for land use and energy. Science 324, 1183–1186 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Reilly, J. et al. Using land to mitigate climate change: Hitting the target, recognizing the trade-offs. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 5672–5679 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Lotze-Campen, H. et al. Global food demand, productivity growth, and the scarcity of land and water resources: A spatially explicit mathematical programming approach. Agric. Econ. 39, 325–338 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Müller, C. & Robertson, R. D. Projecting future crop productivity for global economic modeling. Agric. Econ. 45, 37–50 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Bondeau, A. et al. Modelling the role of agriculture for the 20th century global terrestrial carbon balance. Glob. Change Biol. 13, 679–706 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Schaphoff, S. et al. Contribution of permafrost soils to the global carbon budget. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014026 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    O’ Neill, B. C. et al. A new scenario framework for climate change research: The concept of shared socioeconomic pathways. Climatic Change 122, 387–400 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Van Vuuren, D. P. et al. The representative concentration pathways: An overview. Climatic Change 109, 5–31 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Meinshausen, M. et al. Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 458, 1158–1162 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Harvey, C. A., Dickson, B. & Kormos, C. Opportunities for achieving biodiversity conservation through REDD. Conserv. Lett. 3, 53–61 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Stickler, C. M. et al. The potential ecological costs and cobenefits of REDD: A critical review and case study from the Amazon region. Glob. Change Biol. 15, 2803–2824 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Myers, N., Mittermeier, R. A., Mittermeier, C. G., da Fonseca, G. A. B. & Kent, J. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403, 853–858 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Popp, A. et al. The economic potential of bioenergy for climate change mitigation with special attention given to implications for the land system. Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 034017 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Popp, A. et al. Additional CO2 emissions from land use change—Forest conservation as a precondition for sustainable production of second generation bioenergy. Ecol. Econ. 74, 64–70 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Mueller, N. D. et al. Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management. Nature 490, 254–257 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Smith, P. et al. How much land based greenhouse gas mitigation can be achieved without compromising food security and environmental goals? Glob. Change Biol. 19, 2285–2302 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Humpenöder, F. et al. Investigating afforestation and bioenergy CCS as climate change mitigation strategies. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 064029 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Dietrich, J. P., Schmitz, C., Lotze-Campen, H., Popp, A. & Müller, C. Forecasting technological change in agriculture—An endogenous implementation in a global land use model. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change 81, 236–249

  35. 35

    Bodirsky, B. L. et al. N2O emissions from the global agricultural nitrogen cycle–current state and future scenarios. Biogeosciences 9, 4169–4197 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program under grant agreement no. 282846 (LIMITS), no. 265104 (VOLANTE) and no. 603542 (LUC4C). Funding from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in the SPP ED 178/3-1 (CEMICS) is gratefully acknowledged.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.P. designed the overall study; F.H. and M.B. carried out the MAgPIE model runs. A.P. wrote the manuscript with important contributions from F.H., B.L.B., C.M. and M.B.; A.P., F.H., M.B. and B.L.B. analysed the results; F.H., I.W., B.L.B., M.B., J.P.D., A.P., M.S., A.B. and H.L-C. contributed in developing and improving the MAgPIE model; C.M. and S.R. provided biophysical input data from LPJmL; all authors discussed and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander Popp.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Popp, A., Humpenöder, F., Weindl, I. et al. Land-use protection for climate change mitigation. Nature Clim Change 4, 1095–1098 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2444

Download citation

Further reading