Reprint 2012-11

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

by Reilly, J., J. Melillo, Y. Cai, D. Kicklighter, A. Gurgel, S. Paltsev, T. Cronin, A. Sokolov and A. Schlosser
Environmental Science and Technology, 46(11): 5672-5679, 2012

(MIT News Story May 7, 2013)
(MIT News Story June 25, 2012)


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 °C 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 °C 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.

© 2012 American Chemical Society

Reprint Summary

Link to full document (795 kB PDF)