Valuing Carbon and Improving Agricultural Productivity Preserves Tropical Forests


A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition this week reports new findings that could lead to new strategies to prevent deforestation and mitigate climate change. Using a global integrated human-natural systems model, researchers from the DOE-funded Joint Global Change Research Institute find that improvements in agricultural yields and economic valuation of carbon in forests could, when combined, prevent widespread tropical deforestation over the 21st century. Preserving forests on this scale would reduce carbon emissions from land use change from ~4 GtCO2 yr-1 today to less than 1 GtCO2 yr-1 by 2020 and would hold emissions at that level through the 21st century. Improving crop productivity alone reduces emissions but does not prevent widespread tropical deforestation. Economic valuation of forests alone results in a 50% decline in carbon emissions from land use change. However, combining improvements in productivity with economic valuation not only preserves tropical forests but increases their extent. This work demonstrates, for the first time, the role of improved agricultural technology as a climate mitigation strategy. The results provide new insights into how agriculture and land use might change over time in response to the economic pressure to limit emissions.


AM Thomson, KV Calvin, LP Chini, G Hurtt, JA Edmonds, B Bond-Lamberty, S Frolking, MA Wise, and AC Janetos, “Climate mitigation and the future of tropical landscapes,” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, Early Edition online the week of Oct. 4-8, 2010, 10.1073/pnas.0910467107.