skip to main content

Title: Large climate mitigation potential from adding trees to agricultural lands

While improved management of agricultural landscapes is promoted as a promising natural climate solution, available estimates of the mitigation potential are based on coarse assessments of both agricultural extent and aboveground carbon density. Here we combine 30 meter resolution global maps of aboveground woody carbon, tree cover, and cropland extent, as well as a 1 km resolution map of global pasture land, to estimate the current and potential carbon storage of trees in nonforested portions of agricultural lands. We find that global croplands currently store 3.07 Pg of carbon (C) in aboveground woody biomass (i.e., trees) and pasture lands account for an additional 3.86 Pg C across a combined 3.76 billion ha. We then estimate the climate mitigation potential of multiple scenarios of integration and avoided loss of trees in crop and pasture lands based on region‐specific biomass distributions. We evaluate our findings in the context of nationally determined contributions and find that the majority of potential carbon storage from integration and avoided loss of trees in crop and pasture lands is in countries that do not identify agroforestry as a climate mitigation technique.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Global Change Biology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 4357-4365
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change, and, at the same time, are predicted to experience large-scale impacts of climate change that will affect the efficiency of forests in mitigation efforts. Projections of future carbon sequestration potential typically do not account for the changing economic costs of timber and agricultural production and land use change. We integrated a dynamic forward-looking economic optimization model of global land use with results from a dynamic global vegetation model and meta-analysis of climate impacts on crop yields to project future carbon sequestration in forests. We find that the direct impacts of climate change on forests, represented by changes in dieback and forest growth, and indirect effects due to lost crop productivity, together result in a net gain of 17 Gt C in aboveground forest carbon storage from 2000 to 2100. Increases in climate-driven forest growth rates will result in an 81%–99% reduction in costs of reaching a range of global forest carbon stock targets in 2100, while the increases in dieback rates are projected to raise the costs by 57%–132%. When combined, these two direct impacts are expected to reduce the global costs of climate change mitigation in forests by more than 70%. Inclusion of the third, indirect impact of climate change on forests through reduction in crop yields, and the resulting expansion of cropland, raises the costs by 11%–38% and widens the uncertainty range. While we cannot rule out the possibility of climate change increasing mitigation costs, the central outcomes of the simultaneous impacts of climate change on forests and agriculture are 64%–86% reductions in the mitigation costs. Overall, the results suggest that concerns about climate driven dieback in forests should not inhibit the ambitions of policy makers in expanding forest-based climate solutions.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Enhanced ecosystem carbon storage is a key component of many climate mitigation pathways. The State of California has set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, relying in part on enhanced carbon sequestration in natural and working lands. We used statistical modeling, including random forest and climate analog approaches, to explore the climate‐driven challenges and uncertainties associated with the goal of long‐term carbon sequestration in forests and shrublands. We found that seasonal patterns of temperature and precipitation are strong controllers of the spatial distribution of aboveground live carbon. RCP8.5 projections of temperature and precipitation are estimated to drive decreases of 16.1% ± 7.5% in aboveground live carbon by the end of the century, with coastal areas of central and northern California and low/mid‐elevation mountain areas being most vulnerable. With RCP4.5 projections, declines are less severe, with 8.8% ± 5.3% carbon loss. In either scenario, increases in temperature systematically cause biomass declines, and the spread of projected precipitation across 32 CMIP5 models contributes to substantial uncertainty in the magnitude of that decline. Projected changes in the environmental niche for the 20 most biomass‐dominant tree species revealed widespread replacement of conifers by oak species in low elevation regions of central and northern California, with a corresponding decline in carbon storage depending on expected migration rates. The spatial patterns of vulnerability we identify may allow policymakers to assess where carbon sequestration in aboveground biomass is an appropriate part of a climate mitigation portfolio, and where future climate‐driven carbon losses may be a liability.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Forests play a critical role in stabilizing Earth’s climate. Establishing protected areas (PAs) represents one approach to forest conservation, but PAs were rarely created to mitigate climate change. The global impact of PAs on the carbon cycle has not previously been quantified due to a lack of accurate global-scale carbon stock maps. Here we used ~412 million lidar samples from NASA’s GEDI mission to estimate a total PA aboveground carbon (C) stock of 61.43 Gt (+/− 0.31), 26% of all mapped terrestrial woody C. Of this total, 9.65 + /− 0.88 Gt of additional carbon was attributed to PA status. These higher C stocks are primarily from avoided emissions from deforestation and degradation in PAs compared to unprotected forests. This total is roughly equivalent to one year of annual global fossil fuel emissions. These results underscore the importance of conservation of high biomass forests for avoiding carbon emissions and preserving future sequestration.

    more » « less
  4. Meeting end-of-century global warming targets requires aggressive action on multiple fronts. Recent reports note the futility of addressing mitigation goals without fully engaging the agricultural sector, yet no available assessments combine both nature-based solutions (reforestation, grassland and wetland protection, and agricultural practice change) and cellulosic bioenergy for a single geographic region. Collectively, these solutions might offer a suite of climate, biodiversity, and other benefits greater than either alone. Nature-based solutions are largely constrained by the duration of carbon accrual in soils and forest biomass; each of these carbon pools will eventually saturate. Bioenergy solutions can last indefinitely but carry significant environmental risk if carelessly deployed. We detail a simplified scenario for the U.S. that illustrates the benefits of combining approaches. We assign a portion of non-forested former cropland to bioenergy sufficient to meet projected mid-century transportation needs, with the remainder assigned to nature-based solutions such as reforestation. Bottom-up mitigation potentials for the aggregate contributions of crop, grazing, forest, and bioenergy lands are assessed by including in a Monte Carlo model conservative ranges for cost-effective local mitigation capacities, together with ranges for (a) areal extents that avoid double counting and include realistic adoption rates and (b) the projected duration of different carbon sinks. The projected duration illustrates the net effect of eventually saturating soil carbon pools in the case of most strategies, and additionally saturating biomass carbon pools in the case of reforestation. Results show a conservative end-of-century mitigation capacity of 110 (57 – 178) Gt CO2e for the U.S., ~50% higher than existing estimates that prioritize nature-based or bioenergy solutions separately. Further research is needed to shrink uncertainties but there is sufficient confidence in the general magnitude and direction of a combined approach to plan for deployment now. The dataset is a synthesis of literature values selected based on criteria described in the parent paper’s narrative. The files can be opened in Microsoft Excel or any other spreadsheet that can load Excel-format files. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract Historically, humans have cleared many forests for agriculture. While this substantially reduced ecosystem carbon storage, the impacts of these land cover changes on terrestrial gross primary productivity (GPP) have not been adequately resolved yet. Here, we combine high-resolution datasets of satellite-derived GPP and environmental predictor variables to estimate the potential GPP of forests, grasslands, and croplands around the globe. With a mean GPP of 2.0 kg C m −2  yr −1 forests represent the most productive land cover on two thirds of the total area suitable for any of these land cover types, while grasslands and croplands on average reach 1.5 and 1.8 kg C m −2  yr −1 , respectively. Combining our potential GPP maps with a historical land-use reconstruction indicates a 4.4% reduction in global GPP from agricultural expansion. This land-use-induced GPP reduction is amplified in some future scenarios as a result of ongoing deforestation (e.g., the large-scale bioenergy scenario SSP4-3.4) but partly reversed in other scenarios (e.g., the sustainability scenario SSP1-1.9) due to agricultural abandonment. Comparing our results to simulations from state-of-the-art Earth System Models, we find that all investigated models deviate substantially from our estimates and from each other. Our maps could be used as a benchmark to reduce this inconsistency, thereby improving projections of land-based climate mitigation potentials. 
    more » « less