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Publication Date
7 December 2022

Doubling protected land area may be inefficient at preserving the extent of undeveloped land and could cause substantial regional shifts in land use



Projection of land use and land‐cover change is highly uncertain yet drives critical estimates of carbon emissions, climate change, and food and bioenergy production. We use new, spatially explicit land availability data in conjunction with a model sensitivity analysis to estimate the effects of additional land protection on land use and land cover. The land availability data include protected land and agricultural suitability and is incorporated into the Moirai land data system for initializing the Global Change Analysis Model. Overall, decreasing land availability is relatively inefficient at preserving undeveloped land while having considerable regional land‐use impacts. Current amounts of protected area have little effect on land and crop production estimates, but including the spatial distribution of unsuitable (i.e., unavailable) land dramatically shifts bioenergy production from high northern latitudes to the rest of the world, compared with uniform availability. This highlights the importance of spatial heterogeneity in understanding and managing land change. Approximately doubling the current protected area to emulate a 30% protected area target may avoid land conversion by 2050 of less than half the newly protected extent while reducing bioenergy feedstock land by 10.4% and cropland and grazed pasture by over 3%. Regional bioenergy land may be reduced (increased) by up to 46% (36%), cropland reduced by up to 61%, pasture reduced by up to 100%, and harvested forest reduced by up to 35%. Only a few regions show notable gains in some undeveloped land types of up to 36%. Half of the regions can reach the target using only unsuitable land, which would minimize impacts on agriculture but may not meet conservation goals. Rather than focusing on an area target, a more robust approach may be to carefully select newly protected land to meet well‐defined conservation goals while minimizing impacts to agriculture.

Di Vittorio, Alan V., Kanishka B. Narayan, Pralit Patel, Katherine Calvin, and Chris R. Vernon. 2022. “Doubling Protected Land Area May Be Inefficient At Preserving The Extent Of Undeveloped Land And Could Cause Substantial Regional Shifts In Land Use”. Gcb Bioenergy 15 (2). Wiley: 185-207. doi:10.1111/gcbb.13016.
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