Full effects of land use change in the representative concentration pathways
Environmental Research Letters
Future land use change (LUC) is an important component of the IPCC representative concentration pathways (RCPs), but in these scenarios' radiative forcing targets the climate impact of LUC only includes greenhouse gases. However, climate effects due to physical changes of the land surface can be as large. Here we show the critical importance of including non-carbon impacts of LUC when considering the RCPs. Using an ensemble of climate model simulations with and without LUC, we show that the net
... climate effect is very different from the carbon-only effect. Despite opposite signs of LUC, all the RCPs assessed here have a small net warming from LUC because of varying biogeophysical effects, and in RCP4.5 the warming is outside of the expected variability. The afforestation in RCP4.5 decreases surface albedo, making the net global temperature anomaly over land around five times larger than RCPs 2.6 and 8.5, for around twice the amount of LUC. Consequent changes to circulation in RCP4.5 in turn reduce Arctic sea ice cover. The small net positive temperature effect from LUC could make RCP4.5's universal carbon tax, which incentivizes retaining and growing forest, counter productive with respect to climate. However, there are spatial differences in the balance of impacts, and potential climate gains would need to be assessed against other environmental aims.