Unprecedented rates of land-use transformation in modelled climate change mitigation pathways

P. A. Turner, C. B. Field, D. B. Lobell, D. L. Sanchez, K. J. Mach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Integrated assessment models generate climate change mitigation scenarios consistent with global temperature targets. To limit warming to 2 °C, cost-effective mitigation pathways rely on extensive deployments of CO2 removal (CDR) technologies, including multi-gigatonne yearly CDR from the atmosphere through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and afforestation/reforestation. While these assumed CDR deployments keep ambitious temperature targets in reach, the associated rates of land-use transformation have not been evaluated. Here, we view implied integrated-assessment-model land-use conversion rates within a historical context. In scenarios with a likely chance of limiting warming to 2 °C in 2100, the rate of energy cropland expansion supporting BECCS proceeds at a median rate of 8.8 Mha yr -1 and 8.4% yr -1 . This rate exceeds - by more than threefold - the observed expansion of soybean, the most rapidly expanding commodity crop. In some cases, mitigation scenarios include abrupt reversal of deforestation, paired with massive afforestation/reforestation. Historical land-use transformation rates do not represent an upper bound for future transformation rates. However, their stark contrast with modelled BECCS deployment rates implies challenges to explore in harnessing - or presuming the ready availability of - large-scale biomass-based CDR in the decades ahead. Reducing BECCS deployment to remain within these historical expansion rates would mean either the 2 °C target is missed or additional mitigation would need to occur elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-245
Number of pages6
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Food Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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