The last two years before the collapse of the financial markets has offered a preview of things to come in a world with climate change, growing economies in Asia, and great disparities in food production capacity in some parts of the developing world (e.g., Africa). This preview shows clear indications that the economies of energy and materials production will move increasingly toward a bioeconomy that utilizes renewable fuels in place of nonrenewable fossil fuels. This trend, if it continues at the same pace in the future, will place significant demands on land-based resources in ways that have not previously been observed. Land as capital will replace oil as capital. As we live in a carbon-constrained world beyond oil, the land base will be increasingly stressed. To date, we have few, if any, tools to measure and monitor land transformation worldwide. A stark example can be seen in the rapid expansion of palm oil into tropical forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. There are no accurate data on the land area planted in palm oil and even less on where the palm oil was planted. Thus years went by before anyone was aware that a great transformation of rich tropical forests had taken place. In tandem with this transformation from a fossil fuel economy to a bioeconomy, there is an urgent need to develop the global measurement and monitoring systems to track the resulting changes in land cover and use.
We are at the beginning of a perfect storm: rising demands for commodities, increasing stress from climate change, rapid demand for a range of land-based ecosystem services, declining efficiency of production in agriculture, rising fuel costs, loss of forests, and threats to availability of agriculture inputs (rotation lengths and cultivation duration declining). Land will be the most important medium for mitigation and adaptation to these stressors in a carbon-constrained world; land systems will form the nexus between water, materials, and energy issues in ways that have previously not been experienced (Marland and Obersteiner 2008).
There are, however, management options available. Improved monitoring of land use change using global satellite remote sensing, coupled with robust ecosystem services markets, can provide metric tools to track sustainable land use and agriculture. The emerging carbon fi nancial markets simultaneously provide measures of fossil fuel and nonfossil carbon utilization, as well as their valuation. In addition, these markets are tuned to incorporate land-based inventories of carbon stocks and land use. One potentially powerful outcome of such a measurement regime is that it places a quantifiable premium on stocks and flows, as well as interactions. For instance, these markets could provide measures of the quantity of renewable carbon utilization for biofuel and loss of carbon due to land conversion for biofuel feedstock development.
Thereafter, it would be possible to go one step further and elaborate a management strategy that would increase storage of carbon on land from land conversion of a different type: from degraded land to agroforestry and forest.
Leake (2008) estimates that 192 Pg of carbon could be removed from the atmosphere over a period of 50-80 years through a range of land management strategies, including re-vegetation of degraded land, agroforestry, and other forms of biosequestration. Indeed, the challenge of measuring this much biosequestration would be daunting; however, this form of strategic balancing would relieve considerable pressure for land conversion to biocrops.
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