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Periodic Report Summary 2 - LUC4C (Land use change: assessing the net climate forcing, and options for climate change mitigation and adaptation)

Project Context and Objectives:
It has long been recognised that land-use and land-cover changes (LULCC) that humans cause through agriculture, forestry and pastures, are important for climate change. LULCC produces a large amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) released to the atmosphere when forests are turned into cropland or grassland, or of the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, in rice production and when fields are fertilised. Only more recently has it also been recognised how large local climate effects related to LULCC are as a result of changing the transpiration rate or altering how much sunlight is reflected.
But especially in the wake of the 2015 Paris agreement, in which countries agreed to push to keep climate change around or even below 2 oC has yet another climate change effect of LULCC moved strongly in focus, namely the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by growing vegetation (as well as avoiding further CO2 emissions from continued deforestation). The aim is to use this growing vegetation as bioenergy while capturing the emitted CO2 after combustion for long-term underground storage. The technology (and acceptance through societies) has not been proven. Since the world’s land resources are limited, co-benefits and trade-offs of different land-use options (for instance: food production vs. reforestation vs. bioenergy crops) need to be identified and the underlying mechanisms in natural ecosystems, as well as in policy, society and economy better understood.
LUC4C aims to advance our fundamental knowledge of the interactions between climate change and land-use change, and to synthesise of complex earth system science into guidelines that are of practical use for policy and societal stakeholders.
The overarching objectives of LUC4C are to:
(i) enhance our ability to understand the societal and environmental drivers of land-use and land-cover change relevant to climate change, and assess regional and global effects of different land-based mitigation policies and adaptation measures within alternative socio-economic contexts;
(ii) advance our ability to represent LULCC in climate models and quantify how the LULCC-climate change interplay affects global vs. regional, and biophysical vs. biogeochemical ecosystem-atmosphere exchange;
(iii) assess LULCC-climate effects on multiple ecosystem services and analyse these in relation to other societal needs that provide either a synergy or trade-off to land-based climate mitigation and adaptation.

Project Results:
The work in LUC4C is divided into seven research-oriented work packages, plus one work package dedicated to management of the project and dissemination of the results.
(1) In WP1, Policy needs and recommendations, contributed to a number of policy outreach events (especially regarding the COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris) and to the preparation of policy briefs and fact sheets. Progress has also been made towards a number of policy events to be held in Brussels during the final year of the project.

(2) WP2, Land-use and –cover change processes, analysed satellite-remote sensing data and land-use change statistics to improve understanding of land-use change patterns. Progress has also been made on important model developments that will allow new analyses on the land-use change system and its interplay with climate change.

(3) In WP3, Ecosystem processes, explored how different future scenarios of land-use and land-cover change will affect ecosystems. These scenarios focussed on land-based climate change mitigation options such as bioenergy, and avoided deforestation and reforestation and investigate carbon uptake potential in ecosystems, and effects on other ecosystem parameters (e.g., related to water balance or effects on air pollution).
(4) WP4 assesses the net climate effects of past and future LULCC, and to do so performed several large scale idealized deforestation simulation experiments with fully coupled Global Climate Models (GCMs). This information helps to determine first order impact of LULCC and to provide a generic tool to anticipate the impacts of land-use change on local and global climate.
(5) WP 5 Model-data integration, performance, uncertainties has generated two observation-driven datasets of impacts on regional climate from land-use change. The data sets will now be used with dedicated model simulations performed by dynamic global vegetation models, for comparison.
(6) WP6, Integrated assessment and synthesis delivered scenarios of land-based mitigation options for further analysis in WPs 3 and 4. A methodology to account for biogeochemical and biophysical effects of land-use change in offline land-use change models has been developed jointly with WP4, and initial tests have been performed. Work has also commenced in the LUC4C synthesis which is led by WP6, and which will be the focus of the last project year.
(7) WP7 Improved MRV methodology, demonstrated by synthesising the scientific literature about the biophysical effects of land-use and land-cover changes on climate that biophysical processes have a strong regional effect, and non-negligible impacts globally, both for temperature and precipitation. Work has commenced on the development of a monitoring tool to deliver a methodological guidance to assess biophysical climate effect for several land-use land cover transitions. A review of land-use change related aspects for use in life-cycle assessment approaches has shown that for many aspects of LULCC the methods are not yet in place.

Main results:
Climate-relevant policies: The ongoing debate about the potential of bioenergy, together with carbon capture and storage, to contribute to climate-change mitigation has been greatly stimulated by the climate change agreement that countries have signed during the COP21 negotiations in Paris, 2015. Many uncertainties exist, some of which are a focus of LUC4C (related to ecosystem carbon uptake potential in the bioenergy future scenarios). The results of LUC4C research on bioenergy potentials, and of climate (and ecosystem) impacts of other mitigation policies will have to be communicated to policy stakeholders. The dialogue with stakeholders will need to specify the many known uncertainties regarding the future effects of land-use change on climate, and the co-benefits as well as trade-offs regarding other ecosystem functioning that are relevant to human societies.
Land-use processes: Reconstructing dynamics of past-to-present land-use changes is challenging since the observational record is short and often does not have the necessary resolution regarding the spatial detail. However, more and more data is becoming available and can be used, at least for some regions of the planet. New syntheses of these data shed light on many aspects of land-use change that are so far not yet well represented in global past “hindcasts” of land-use change, but have been shown to be important when assessing impacts on ecosystems, and climate.
Ecosystem processes: Large uncertainties have been identified when exploring land-use change effects on global ecosystems. These include –amongst others- how different types of land management are included in simulations with ecosystem models, how past land-use change patterns are represented, how many different past land-use change estimates are available, and how future projections are represented. While these uncertainties do not yet allow a robust estimate of (past to future) land-use change impacts, their identification is a large step forward.
Net climate effects of past and future LULCC: Large local-to-regional climate effects of LULCC sere identified in a number of studies that ranged from specific, new model experiments to synthesis of existing model data. These climate effects go well beyond temperature and also include variables such as wind-speed or precipitation). Whether or not LULCC in a given region would also have remote (“teleconnected”) impacts on climate far away is still not proven but (depending on how large the area of LULCC is) seems unlikely. Moreover, initial analysis also focused on providing a relatively simple measure for the degree of local temperature change per area of land-use change, which is important input to ongoing work in other project-related tasks.
Model-data integration, performance, uncertainties: Using satellite-remote sensing data the impact of deforestation on surface temperature in different world biomes (tropics, temperate, boreal) could be proven. Ongoing analysis augments this important finding with other data, and relate the regions principal temperature response to LULCC more systematically to the observed change in total leaf area.
Integrated assessment and synthesis: Scenarios in which a range of land-based options to mitigate climate change are explored show the large effects these different options have on the future distribution of natural, crop and pasture ecosystems. Not only is the range large, there are also big differences when similar type of scenarios are explored in different land-use change models. In cooperation with other LUC4C tasks this aids to get a better understanding of the range of uncertainties that must be considered when assessing the land-use change - climate change interplay.
Improved methodology to include LULCC climate impacts in monitoring efforts or life-cycle analysis: The concept of developing a so-called “tier” methodology to report LULCC biophysical climate impacts on a country-basis is in place, and will combine simple empirical relationships (tier 1) with methods that also include process-based modelling (tier three). For life-cycle analyses that seek to assess the environmental impacts of products an initial literature synthesis has demonstrated that methods to include biophysical impacts, or impacts of indirect land-use change are so far absent or in very early stages of development.

Potential Impact:
LUC4C is designed to achieve the following expected outcomes over the project duration:
(1) discern the key elements of land use that have the largest effect on climate, including their dependencies across time and space;
(2) develop innovative methods to better quantify the dynamic interactions between land use and the climate system at different time and space scales;
(3) deliver a portfolio of synthesis products and best practice guidelines for the identification of benefits or adverse effects of land-based mitigation options across different scenarios and where conflicts occur, the need for trade-offs.
Over the second reporting period, LUC4C followed several dissemination pathways. The booklet “How agriculture and forestry change climate, and how we deal with it “, was translated into Mandarin and into German. Several short articles have been prepared for German-speaking websites ( for outreach to the general public. Likewise a number of fact sheets and policy briefs are available for download on the project website that synthesise some of the project’s main results so far.
For the scientific audience, nearly 30 manuscripts have been published in the reporting period, including in high-impact journals such as Nature Communications, and Science. LUC4C organized a session entitled Global scenarios of land-use change and land-based mitigation, and their importance in the climate system in the July 2015 international conference “Our common future under climate change”, which is a scientific runner-up meeting to the COP-21 meeting in Paris, and which will have several thousand attendees. Furthermore, a side-event for COP21 was held at the Rio-Conventions Pavillion in Paris in November 2015. LUC4C scientists are also actively engaged in the ongoing ipbes regional (Europe, Russia and Central Asia) and global assessments.

More information can be found at the LUC4C website:

List of Websites:

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Karlsruher Institut fuer Technologie
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