New land use strategies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions

While the use of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil is the largest contributor to emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere, a Colorado State University researcher suggests also looking at other sectors of the global economy to substantially reduce GHG emissions.

Reducing levels of greenhouse gases

Keith Paustian, CSU professor of soil and crop sciences

A new analysis published in the prestigious journal Nature, led by Keith Paustian, CSU professor of soil and crop sciences, describes how changes in land-use practices can help reduce the levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane in the atmosphere.

“No matter what approach we take to reducing GHG emissions – whether it is the use of fossil fuels, changes in how we manage the production supply chain, or new innovations in agriculture – land use plays a key role,” said Paustian. “What needs to change is how we incentivize new land-use strategies for farmers, ranchers and producers.”

Emerging research

Emerging research and information technology developments offer promise in paving the way for policies that can make use of the large greenhouse mitigation potential available through improved land use and management.

One example is an online tool designed to help farmers and ranchers understand how their practices impact their carbon footprint. COMET-Farm (which stands for CarbOn Management and Evaluation Tool) was developed by CSU, in partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, to help producers estimate their greenhouse gas footprint and evaluate alternative management practices using detailed data unique to each individual farming or ranching operation.

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New approaches

Paustian notes that these new approaches and new tools will not only allow for increased engagement on the part of farmers and ranchers but also offer a chance for industry to become more actively involved in land-use issues. “Land use is as much a social issue as it is an environmental issue,” said Paustian. “We need to develop the right policies and incentives for industry, and we need to do so by marshalling our scientific research and expertise.”

Among the report’s other recommendations are generating more high-quality data on land-use impacts on GHG emissions and greater engagement through education and outreach with the land users themselves. The full study can be found in Nature here.

Other authors on this study include: Johannes Lehmann, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University; Stephen Ogle, CSU Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability; David Reay, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh; G. Philip Robertson, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, Michigan State University; and Pete Smith, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen.