Author(s): Michael A Huston
International efforts to mitigate human-caused changes in the Earth's climate are considering a system of incentives (debits and credits) that would encourage specific changes in land use that can help to reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. The two primary land-based activities that would help to minimize atmospheric carbon dioxide are carbon storage in the terrestrial biosphere and the efficient substitution of biomass fuels and bio-based products for fossil fuels and energy-intensive products. These two activities have very different land requirements and different implications for the preservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of other ecosystem services. Carbon sequestration in living forests can be pursued on lands with low productivity, i.e. on lands that are least suitable for agriculture or intensive forestry, and are compatible with the preservation of biodiversity over large areas. In contrast, intensive harvest-and-use systems for biomass fuels and products generally need more productive land to be economically viable. Intensive harvest-and-use systems may compete with agriculture or they may shift intensive land uses onto the less productive lands that currently harbor most of the Earth's biodiversity. Win-win solutions for carbon dioxide control and biodiversity are possible, but careful evaluation and planning are needed to avoid practices that reduce biodiversity with little net decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Planning is more complex on a politically subdivided Earth where issues of local interest, national sovereignty, and equity come into play.