The Potential Radiative Forcing of Global Land Use and Land Cover Change Activities

Monday, 15 December 2014
Daniel S Ward, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States, Natalie M Mahowald, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States and Silvia Kloster, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
Given the expected increase in pressure on land resources over the next century, there is a need to understand the total impacts of activities associated with land use and land cover change (LULCC). Here we quantify these impacts using the radiative forcing metric, including forcings from changes in long-lived greenhouse gases, tropospheric ozone, aerosol effects, and land surface albedo. We estimate radiative forcings from the different agents for historical LULCC and for six future projections using simulations from the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Land Model and Community Atmosphere Models and additional offline analyses. When all forcing agents are considered together we show that 45% (+30%, -20%) of the present-day (2010) anthropogenic radiative forcing can be attributed to LULCC. Changes in the emission of non-CO2 greenhouse gases and aerosols from LULCC enhance the total LULCC radiative forcing by a factor of 2 to 3 with respect to the forcing from CO2 alone. In contrast, the non-CO2 forcings from fossil fuel burning are roughly neutral, due largely to the negative (cooling) impact of aerosols from these sources.

We partition the global LULCC radiative forcing into three major sources: direct modification of land cover (e.g. deforestation), agricultural activities, and fire regime changes. Contributions from deforestation and agriculture are roughly equal in the present day, while changes to wildfire activity impose a small negative forcing globally. In 2100, deforestation activities comprise the majority of the LULCC radiative forcing for all projections except one (Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5). This suggests that realistic scenarios of future forest area change are essential for projecting the contribution of LULCC to climate change. However, the commonly used RCP land cover change projections all include decreases in global deforestation rates over the next 85 years. To place an upper bound on the potential radiative forcing from LULCC we create a ‘worst-case scenario” in which all arable land is converted to agriculture by the year 2100. This scenario leads to a total radiative forcing of 4.3 Wm-2 (+/- 1 Wm-2) suggesting that well thought-out land policy is needed to minimize future increases in global anthropogenic radiative forcing.