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Using Land To Mitigate Climate Change: Hitting the Target, Recognizing the Trade-offs


J. Reilly

Jerry Melillo

Yongxia Cai

David Kicklighter

Angelo Gurgel

Sergey Paltsev

Timothy Cronin

Andrei Sokolov

Adam Schlosser

+4 more
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Secondary Title:
Environmental Science & Technology


Land can be used in several ways to mitigate climate change, but especially under changing environmental conditions there may be implications for food prices. Using an integrated global system model, we explore the roles that these land-use options can play in a global mitigation strategy to stabilize Earth's average temperature within 2 \textdegreeC of the preindustrial level and their impacts on agriculture. We show that an ambitious global Energy-Only climate policy that includes biofuels would likely not achieve the 2 \textdegreeC target. A thought-experiment where the world ideally prices land carbon fluxes combined with biofuels (Energy+Land policy) gets the world much closer. Land could become a large net carbon sink of about 178 Pg C over the 21st century with price incentives in the Energy+Land scenario. With land carbon pricing but without biofuels (a No-Biofuel scenario) the carbon sink is nearly identical to the case with biofuels, but emissions from energy are somewhat higher, thereby results in more warming. Absent such incentives, land is either a much smaller net carbon sink (+37 Pg C – Energy-Only policy) or a net source (-21 Pg C – No-Policy). The significant trade-off with this integrated land-use approach is that prices for agricultural products rise substantially because of mitigation costs borne by the sector and higher land prices. Share of income spent on food for wealthier regions continues to fall, but for the poorest regions, higher food prices lead to a rising share of income spent on food.