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Atmospheric Sciences & Global Change
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October 2010

Saving Tropical Forests

Agricultural improvements aid in reducing emissions and in keeping food affordable

Hay Fields
Improved crop productivity alone can't save tropical forests from agricultural encroachment as the world warms and population grows. Emissions policies must place a value on carbon in forests as well, this study shows. Enlarge Image

Results: Crop productivity improvements and the economic evaluation of carbon in forests together could prevent widespread tropical deforestation over the next 100 years as well as contribute to limiting climate change.  But, if relying on either strategy alone, the world is at risk of losing many of its tropical forests, according to a report released October 4th in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. Researchers at the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI) and the University of New Hampshire, Durham, show that a form of economic incentive to store carbon in forests through a strategy to limit greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, combined with farming improvements not only preserves tropical forests but increases their extent.

Why It Matters:  "A key point of this study is the importance of counting the forest carbon in mitigation strategies," said research scientist Allison Thomson of JGCRI. "Our previous work has shown that's important, but the contribution of agricultural technology as a climate mitigation strategy—in terms of how much it can contribute to reducing carbon emissions from land use change—is new. That hasn't been demonstrated before."

Read the PNNL press release on carbon and deforestation.

Acknowledgments: This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the Office of Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

The Joint Global Change Research Institute is a unique partnership formed in 2001 between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland. PNNL staff associated with the center are world renowned for their expertise in energy conservation and understanding of the interactions between climate, energy production and use, economic activity, and the environment.

This work was supported by:  Allison Thomson, Katherine Calvin, James Edmonds, George Hurtt, Ben Bond-Lamberty, Marshall Wise, and Anthony Janetos of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, Louise Chini and George Hurtt of the Department of Geography, University of Maryland, and Steve Frokling of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, Complex Systems Research Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham.

Reference: Thomson A, K Calvin, L Chini, G Hurtt, J Edmonds, B Bond-Lamberty, S Frolking, M Wise, and A Janetos. 2010. "Climate mitigation and the future of tropical landscapes." Proceedings of the  National Academy of  Sciences of the United States of America, Early Edition online the week of Oct. 4-8, 2010, 10.1073/pnas.0910467107.

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