The Land-Energy Nexus in Climate Change Mitigation

September 11, 2018

How do interactions between land use and the deep decarbonization of energy affect our strategies for addressing climate change? Over 45 experts including scientists, politicians, environmental NGOs, farmers, foresters, modelers, and private sector leaders came together to consider this question, present practical solutions, and discuss implementation challenges at the fourth edition of the Low-Emissions Solutions Conference (LESC). The event took place alongside the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, California on September 11, and was hosted by the University of San Francisco and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with both local and global partners, including core LESC sponsor Enel.

Participants discussed how the land and energy sectors impact each other’s emissions, both positively and negatively, yet there is little coordinated planning to address this. To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, keep global warming well below 2ºC, and achieve global net-zero emissions by mid-century globally, these interactions must be better understood rapidly.

For example, many models for decarbonizing the energy system rely heavily on bioenergy for transportation fuel and dispatchable power. At the same time, food production must increase to feed the world’s growing and increasingly affluent population, and could compete with bioenergy for land, water, and nutrients. Natural climate solutions like restoring forests can help sequester carbon while preserving biodiversity, but may also compete with other important land uses. Solar and wind energy are an essential part of the low-carbon energy mix, but a large-scale buildout requires well thought-out siting to protect ecosystems. How do we achieve these daunting and essential goals simultaneously?

Key Takeaways

  • Integrated assessment models (IAMs) that include land-use are needed to more clearly understand the impacts of land use techniques on the global carbon budget.

  • Investors and businesses need visibility of long-term policy signals to make sound investments in the technologies that will lead us to a low-carbon future.

  • Policy support for low-carbon fuels is crucial to help the products make their way through the systems.

  • Customer education and public acceptance are extremely important for most of the solutions discussed, and particularly so if we are ever to put a “cost” on carbon.

  • The technical feasibility to decarbonize energy systems has been proven, as demonstrated by the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project and other modeling exercises around the world. The current challenge ahead of us is more so to amplify education, political will, and commitment to scale the technical solutions currently at hand.

  • More research is needed to better understand which solutions apply where, and at what scale, to support the Paris Agreement.

Download the Outcome Summary here for all the details, and stay informed about further LESC opportunities by following us @low2no.