When are Changes in Land Use Truly Good for the Climate?

Feb 25, 2019, 12:00 pm12:00 pm
300 Wallace Hall
Open to the public, RSVP required.
Event Description

Most analyses project increased global demand for food by 50% or more by 2050 while climate stabilization strategies require no net expansion and many require hundreds of millions of hectares of reforestation.  Because land area is fixed, there is no way to achieve both goals without making more efficient use of land.

This talk will discuss how many climate mitigation strategies, including those by the IPCC, have failed to address this fundamental land limitation. It will also articulate why typical analyses of possible changes in land use or management used for policy, including diet changes, have not truly focused on the efficiency of such changes for meeting both food and climate goals because they have not truly factored in the opportunity cost of not using land to store carbon. The talk will explain a new method for analyzing the climate benefits based on a recent paper in Nature, called “Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change.” It finds that changes in both consumption and production that alter land use have far greater consequence for climate change than typically estimated. 


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Timothy D. Searchinger is a Research Scholar in the C-PREE program at Princeton University. He is the lead author of a series of reports, including a new synthesis by the World Resources Institute, the World Bank and UN agencies on how to meet global food needs in 2050 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions titled Creating a Sustainable Food Future. Although trained as a lawyer, his work today combines ecology, agronomy and economics to analyze the challenge of how to feed a growing world population while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. 

Searchinger was the lead author of papers in Science in 2008 and 2009 offering the first calculations of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use change due to biofuels, and describing a broader error for bioenergy generally in the accounting rules for the Kyoto Protocol and many national laws. A recent paper in Nature proposes a new method for evaluating the climate consequences of land use change.  Searchinger has also worked at the Environmental Defense Fund, been a consultant to the World Bank, a Senior Fellow of the Law and Environmental Policy Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, a fellow at the Smith School at Oxford University, a Deputy General Counsel to Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania and a law clerk to Judge Edward Becker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  He is a graduate, summa cum laude, of Amherst College and holds a J.D. from Yale Law School where he was Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal.