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Climate mitigation and the future of tropical landscapes

Thomson, Allison M., Calvin, Katherine V., Chini, Louise P., Hurtt, George, Edmonds, James A., Bond-Lamberty, Ben, Frolking, Steve, Wise, Marshall A., Janetos, Anthony C.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2010 v.107 no.46 pp. 19633-19638
carbon dioxide, climate, climate change, cropland, decision making, deforestation, energy crops, environmental models, environmental policy, fuels, greenhouse gas emissions, land use change, landscapes, prices, tropical forests
Land-use change to meet 21st-century demands for food, fuel, and fiber will depend on many interactive factors, including global policies limiting anthropogenic climate change and realized improvements in agricultural productivity. Climate-change mitigation policies will alter the decision-making environment for land management, and changes in agricultural productivity will influence cultivated land expansion. We explore to what extent future increases in agricultural productivity might offset conversion of tropical forest lands to crop lands under a climate mitigation policy and a contrasting no-policy scenario in a global integrated assessment model. The Global Change Assessment Model is applied here to simulate a mitigation policy that stabilizes radiative forcing at 4.5 W m⁻² (approximately 526 ppm CO₂) in the year 2100 by introducing a price for all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from land use. These scenarios are simulated with several cases of future agricultural productivity growth rates and the results downscaled to produce gridded maps of potential land-use change. We find that tropical forests are preserved near their present-day extent, and bioenergy crops emerge as an effective mitigation option, only in cases in which a climate mitigation policy that includes an economic price for land-use emissions is in place, and in which agricultural productivity growth continues throughout the century. We find that idealized land-use emissions price assumptions are most effective at limiting deforestation, even when cropland area must increase to meet future food demand. These findings emphasize the importance of accounting for feedbacks from land-use change emissions in global climate change mitigation strategies.