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Carbon emissions from the global land rush and potential mitigation


Global drivers and carbon emissions associated with large-scale land transactions have been poorly investigated. Here we examine major factors behind such transactions (income, agricultural productivity, availability of arable land and water scarcity) and estimate potential carbon emissions under different levels of deforestation. We find that clearing lands transacted between 2000 and 2016 (36.7 Mha) could have emitted ~2.26 GtC, but constraining land clearing to historical deforestation rates would reduce emissions related to large-scale land transactions to ~0.81 GtC.

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Fig. 1: Relationships across country groups in the global land rush between 2000 and 2016.
Fig. 2: Global carbon emissions associated with the global land rush.

Data availability

This work used data collected from a variety of publicly available sources. See the references in the main text and Supplementary Information for data specification. All figures are based on this collected dataset, and geographically aggregated data (in more refined detail than the source data) will be made available on request to the corresponding author.

Code availability

The R and Google Earth Engine scripts used for the statistical analysis and image processing are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We thank B. Turner (Arizona State University) for fruitful discussions. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant number 1617364), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (grant number NNX15AD40G), an Arizona State University start-up grant, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and a research stipend by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

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Authors and Affiliations



C.L., K.N. and A.A. designed the study. C.L., K.N. and J.A.S. conducted the analysis. C.L. produced the figures. D.G.B., J.L., C.A. and A.A. contributed to data interpretation. C.L., K.N., J.A.S., D.G.B., J.L., C.A. and A.A. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Chuan Liao.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks Thomas Kastner, David Lapola and Floor van der Hilst for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Figs. 1–7, Table 1 and References.

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Liao, C., Nolte, K., Sullivan, J.A. et al. Carbon emissions from the global land rush and potential mitigation. Nat Food 2, 15–18 (2021).

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