Writing Prompt: Integrating the Land Sector into Long-term Strategies

Transforming agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU, hereafter referred to as the “land sector”) will be critical to help meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C. The world will need to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050, and agriculture must contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive socioeconomic development. Today, however, emissions from the land sector account for nearly a quarter of all human-caused emissions,1 and agricultural expansion is the leading driver of tropical deforestation.2 Moreover, by 2050, the land sector alone could consume 70 percent of the total allowable “budget” of GHG emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement goal.3 At the same time, forests act as a critical carbon sink, soaking up one-third of fossil fuel emissions every year.4

The land sector therefore represents a two-fold opportunity: it can be both decarbonized (to reduce emissions) and recarbonized (to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and back into forests and landscapes). Emissions reductions can occur by implementing supply-side mitigation options or demand-side options. Supply-side options include forestry (e.g., reducing/avoiding deforestation, reforestation/afforestation, peatland restoration, sustainable forest management) and climate-smart agricultural practices that raise productivity of crops, livestock, and aquaculture, while reducing emissions and increasing resilience to climate change. Demand-side options include reducing food loss and waste, changes in diets toward less emissions-intensive products (particularly in medium- and high-income countries), reducing demand for timber products, and reducing the amount of land dedicated to bioenergy production.5 These options may interact with each other and their relevance will vary between countries.

In this paper series, we are soliciting expert perspectives on how the land sector can be best integrated into long-term low-GHG-emissions development strategies. In your response, please answer at least the first question and consider the remaining questions, although you are not required to respond to all of them.

1) What are the most promising long-term supply-side and demand-side options available, and how do we implement them effectively?

  • What are the options to reduce emissions from the land sector and enhance carbon sinks in line with the ambition of the Paris Agreement, in a way that achieves (or maintains) food security by 2050, while ensuring that the land sector contributes to development goals, maintains biodiversity and critical ecosystem services, and is more resilient to changes in the climate?

  • How can synergies between these options (e.g., coupling improved yields with forest protection in the same place to effectively avoid deforestation) be maximized and tradeoffs minimized?

  • What policies, programs, incentives and investments would be necessary to put in place to ensure these options are implemented cost-effectively and at the necessary scale?

  • What are some of the biggest risks and barriers to implementing these options and how can they be overcome? What are some of the economic and social development opportunities that could result from long-term planning in the land sector? Please consider the necessary roles of governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society.

  • Given that implementation of these options will require changes in decision-making from the individual up to the level of policymakers, how do we encourage the necessary shifts in behavior (e.g. food waste reduction, dietary change, or adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices)?

2) How do we align long-term and short-term decisions on the land sector?

  • Are there approaches for enhancement of sinks/reduced emissions, while meeting long-term development needs, that are promising in the short-term but may not be in the long-term given the impermanence of some solutions (e.g. soil carbon sequestration)?

  • What short term decisions need to be made today regarding land sector management decisions that can help achieve the necessary long-term transitions? Which must be avoided (e.g., short term decisions that would “lock in” significant future emissions from the land sector?

3) How should the land sector be integrated in the design of a long-term strategy?

  • How should countries consider their land sector emissions profile in the timing of their reaching net zero emissions? As land use planners are increasingly faced with competing choices when developing long-term urban plans (e.g. aggressive carbon reduction versus short-term political goals focused on economic development and improved accessibility), how can long-term strategies be designed in a manner that best navigates these challenges?

  • When modeling for phase out of emissions, should a country consider multiple scenarios for the land sector given the uncertainty and variability in future emissions and sinks? Which are the “no regrets” options versus those that require additional research to understand and plan for?

What are important elements of a long-term plan (e.g. out to 2050) for the land sector? Should there be quantitative targets included?

  • Given that a long-term plan for the land sector, or an economy-wide one that includes the land sector, will have implications for land-use rights and tenure, as well as the way in which land is used in the future, how can those charged with developing the plan ensure it is inclusive and takes into account views from those affected?

4) How do we manage broader global issues?

  • Given the need to achieve significant negative emissions in the second half of the century if we are to meet Paris Agreement goals, how can the world equitably realize this? Which countries should lead on financing and which on implementation, especially in light of countries’ varying potential? How can leakage of high-emitting land sector activities (e.g., deforestation) from one country to another be avoided?


1 Searchinger, T. et al. (2013). Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A menu of solutions to sustainably feed more than 9 billion people by 2050. World Resources Report 2013-14: Interim Findings. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.

2 Kissinger, G. et al. (2012). “A Synthesis Report for REDD+ Policymakers.” Vancouver, Canada: Lexeme Consulting; Henders, S. et al. (2015). “Trading forests: land-use change and carbon emissions embodied in production and exports of forest-risk commodities.” Environmental Research Letters 10: 125012.

3 Searchinger et al. (2013).

4 Pan, Y. et al. (2011). “A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests.” Science 333: 988-993.

5 Searchinger et al. (2013); Smith, P. et al. (2014). “Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU).” In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., et al. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.