Uncertainties in future global land use and land cover change

Apr 2019

A series of live coverage updates from Global Land Programme’s 2019 Open Science Meeting in Bern, Switzerland.

26 April, 12:00 pm CET

Creating models for how future land use will pan out is not only highly complicated, but also dependent on such a wide range of input factors that there is a wide variance in projection.

Indeed, Kate Calvin, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Joint Global Change Research Institute in Maryland, says that climate change projections on their own are enough to create greatly differing results.

It is a case of one individual factor combining with others to change the outcome.

In a keynote speech to the Global Land Programme’s (GLP) 4th Open Science Meeting in Bern, however, Calvin did show some general conclusions from her integrated human-Earth system modelling.

Higher global populations will mean more cropland and less land covered by forests. The same result is found with just higher incomes (and not necessarily more people).

The opposite result – less cropland and more forest cover – comes from either (or presumably both) raising crop yields or having the world shift to a more vegan or vegetarian diet that reduces the demand on land for cattle grazing.

A perhaps counterintuitive finding was that a shift away from fossil fuels could lead to less forest land. This would come from a transition to biofuels, meaning more cropland use and forest clearing.

“When I look at the world, I see a series of trade-offs,” Calvin said. “When we do one thing, we see something else happening.”


Check back for our ongoing coverage of the Global Land Programme’s 2019 Open Science Meeting. You can view the plenary keynotes on the free online livestream from the event, and follow minute-by-minute coverage on Twitter at @GlobalLandP or use the hashtag #GLPOSM to follow attendees' posts.