Global Food Demand and Carbon-Preserving Cropland Expansion under Varying Levels of Intensification

Justin Andrew Johnson, Carlisle Ford Runge, Benjamin Senauer and Stephen Polasky


Increasing demand for agricultural crops and a decline in the rate of yield improvements will require expansion of cropland (extensification), resulting in a loss of carbon storage. This paper uses global, spatially explicit data to analyze how extensification can be located to meet crop demand in a way that minimizes carbon losses under varying levels of intensification. Carbon-preserving extensification can reduce carbon loss by 7.3 billion tons compared to proportionally increasing extensification by 2050, valued at $1.3 trillion (2012 dollars) based on an estimated social cost of carbon of $181 per ton of carbon (∼$50 per ton CO2). (JEL Q18, Q24)

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