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Beneficial land use change : Strategic expansion of new biomass plantations can reduce environmental impacts from EU agriculture

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Author list: Englund, Oskar

Publisher: EarthArXiv

Publication year: 2019

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.31223/osf.io/4h9dg


Abstract

Society faces the double challenge of addressing negative impacts of current land use, while increasing biomass production to meet the future demands for food, materials and bioenergy. Potential impacts of increasing the biomass supply are subject to debate. In the discourse, land use change (LUC) has often been considered as negative, referring to impacts of deforestation and cropland expansion. At the same time, LUC is considered necessary for mitigating impacts of existing land use. Strategic establishment of suitable crop cultivation systems in agricultural landscapes can mitigate environmental impacts of current crop production, while providing biomass for the bioeconomy. Here, we explore the potential for such “beneficial LUC” in EU28, based on high-resolution land use modeling. First, we map and quantify the degree of accumulated soil organic carbon losses, wind and water erosion, nitrogen emissions to water, and recurring flooding, in ~81.000 individual sub-watersheds in EU28. We then estimate the effectiveness in mitigating these impacts through establishment of perennial plants, in each sub-watershed. Finally, we identify areas where perennialization may be particularly beneficial from an environmental point of view. The results indicate that there is a substantial potential for effective mitigation, regarding all the assessed impacts. Depending on criteria selection, some 10-46% of the land used for annual crop production in EU28 is located in landscapes that could be considered priority areas for beneficial LUC. While some recent policy development is favorable for promoting beneficial LUC, the effectiveness could be increased by seeking synergies between climate change mitigation, energy security, and other societal goals. One way forward can be to identify and promote options for biomass production in the context of SDG implementation.


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