Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Randomized national land management strategies for net-zero emissions


Global scenario modelling for climate stabilization lacks national resolution, particularly for the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sector, impeding effective national climate policymaking. We generate 850 randomized scenarios of activity combinations for Ireland’s AFOLU sector in the year 2050 and evaluate associated greenhouse gas fluxes to the year 2100. Using a GWP100 ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas definition, 146 scenarios achieve AFOLU climate neutrality and 38 contribute to national neutrality (a substantial AFOLU sink) by 2050. Just one scenario contributes to national climate neutrality to 2100, reflecting future declines in CO2 removals by new forests (excluding potential downstream mitigation). In the absence of technical solutions to dramatically reduce the emissions intensity of bovine production, national milk and beef output will need to be substantially curtailed to achieve net-zero emissions. Active CO2 removal on destocked land, via organic soil rewetting and ambitious afforestation, could moderate output declines in milk and beef production, reducing international carbon leakage risks.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Key emissions sources and sinks critical to the determination of ‘climate neutrality’.
Fig. 2: Key input and output parameter variation and post hoc analysis.
Fig. 3: Percentage changes in emissions between 2015 (baseline) and 2050 for statistically representative scenarios.
Fig. 4: CO2 emissions and removals from forestry and HWP and net AFOLU CO2e emissions and removals.
Fig. 5: Scenarios displaying maximum and minimum levels of milk and beef production within N-Z-AFOLU and N-Z-National categories.

Data availability

Authors can confirm that all relevant data are included in the paper and/ or its Supplementary Information.

Code availability

The exact version of the model used to produce the results used in this paper is archived on Zenodo37 and freely available for download.


  1. IPCC: Summary for Policymakers. In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2021).

  2. Adoption of the Paris Agreement FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1 (UNFCC, 2015);

  3. Smith, P. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) Ch. 11 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  4. Clarke, L. K. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) Ch. 6 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  5. Tavoni, M. et al. Post-2020 climate agreements in the major economies assessed in the light of global models. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 119–126 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Rogelj, J., Geden, O., Cowie, A. & Reisinger, A. Three ways to improve net-zero emissions targets. Nature 591, 365–368 (2021).

  7. Duffy, C. et al. GOBLIN version 1.0: a land balance model to identify national agriculture and land use pathways to climate neutrality via backcasting. Geosci. Model Dev. 15, 2239–2264 (2022).

  8. Climate Action Plan 2021 (Government of Ireland, 2021);,intheClimateAct2021

  9. Duffy, P. et al. Ireland’s National Inventory Report 2021 (EPA, 2021);

  10. Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 (Oireachtas, 2021).

  11. Saunois, M. et al. The global methane budget 2000–2017. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 12, 1561–1623 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Günther, A. et al. Prompt rewetting of drained peatlands reduces climate warming despite methane emissions. Nat. Commun. 11, 1644 (2020).

  13. Cain, M. et al. Improved calculation of warming-equivalent emissions for short-lived climate pollutants. NPJ Clim. Atmos. Sci. 2, 29 (2019).

  14. Prudhomme, R., O’Donoghue, C., Ryan, M. & Styles, D. Defining national biogenic methane targets: implications for national food production and climate neutrality objectives. J. Environ. Manage. 295, 113058 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Searchinger, T. D. et al. A Pathway to Carbon Neutral Agriculture in Denmark (World Resources Institute, 2021);

  16. Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming (Committee on Climate Change, 2019);

  17. McKay, M. D., Beckman, R. J. & Conover, W. J. A comparison of three methods for selecting values of input variables in the analysis of output from a computer code. Technometrics 42, 55–61 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Duffy, C., O’Donoghue, C., Ryan, M., Styles, D. & Spillane, C. Afforestation: replacing livestock emissions with carbon sequestration. J. Environ. Manage. 264, 110523 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Forster, E. J., Healey, J. R., Dymond, C. & Styles, D. Commercial afforestation can deliver effective climate change mitigation under multiple decarbonisation pathways. Nat. Commun. 12, 3831 (2021).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Khalil, M. I., Kiely, G., O’Brien, P. & Müller, C. Organic carbon stocks in agricultural soils in Ireland using combined empirical and GIS approaches. Geoderma 193–194, 222–235 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Madigan, A. P., Zimmermann, J., Krol, D. J., Williams, M. & Jones, M. B. Full Inversion Tillage (FIT) during pasture renewal as a potential management strategy for enhanced carbon sequestration and storage in Irish grassland soils. Sci. Total Environ. 805 (2022).

  22. Rogelj, J. et al. Scenarios towards limiting global mean temperature increase below 1.5 °C. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 325–332 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Eory, V. et al. Marginal Abatement Cost Curve for Scottish Agriculture. (Univ. Edinburgh, 2021);

  24. Van Wesemael, D. et al. Reducing enteric methane emissions from dairy cattle: Two ways to supplement 3-nitrooxypropanol. J. Dairy Sci. 102, 1780–1787 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lanigan, G. J. et al. An Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021–2030 (Teagasc, 2019);

  26. Ag Climatise—A Roadmap Towards Climate Neutrality (DAFM, 2020).

  27. Kalus, K., Koziel, J. A. & Opaliński, S. A review of biochar properties and their utilization in crop agriculture and livestock production. Appl. Sci. 9 (2019).

  28. Palansooriya, K. N. et al. Impacts of biochar application on upland agriculture: a review. J. Environ. Manage. 234, 52–64 (2019).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Uprety, D. C. et al. Technologies for Climate Change Mitigation—Agriculture Sector (UNEP, 2017).

  30. Smith, L. G., Kirk, G. J. D., Jones, P. J. & Williams, A. G. The greenhouse gas impacts of converting food production in England and Wales to organic methods. Nat. Commun. 10, 4641 (2019).

  31. Springmann, M. et al. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature 562, 519–525 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  32. IPCC 2019 Refinement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (TFI, 2019);

  33. IPCC 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (eds Eggelston, S. et al.) (IGES, 2006).

  34. Hiraishi, T. et al. 2013 Supplement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories: Wetlands (IPCC, 2014).

  35. Knaggs, G. & O’Driscoll, E. Woodflow and Forest-Based Biomass Energy Use on the Island of Ireland (2018) (Coford, 2019);

  36. Dillon, E., Donnellan, T., Moran, B. & Lennon, J. Teagasc National Farm Survey 2020 (Teagasc, 2021).

  37. Duffy, C., Pruhomme, R., Duffy, B. & Styles, D. General overview for a backcasting approach of livestock intensification (GOBLIN). Zenodo (2021).

Download references


This research was supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland) (EPA 2018-CCRP-MS.57). Thank you to the James Hutton Institute, National University of Ireland Galway, University of Limerick and Teagasc for the facilitation of this research. The James Hutton Institute is supported by the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services (RESAS), a division of the Scottish Government.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



C.D. conducted design, development, analysis, testing and validation and manuscript preparation. R.P. conducted design, development, analysis and validation. B.D. conducted design and development. J.G. conducted validation, review and editing. C.O. conducted validation, review and editing. P.P.M.I. conducted validation, reviewing and editing. M.R. conducted validation, review and editing. D.S. conducted design, development, analysis, review and editing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Colm Duffy.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Sustainability thanks James Glynn, Aaron Simmons and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Original scenario generation for modelling sample.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Duffy, C., Prudhomme, R., Duffy, B. et al. Randomized national land management strategies for net-zero emissions. Nat Sustain 5, 973–980 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing