Agriculture for crops and livestock occupies around 40% of terrestrial land area, is responsible for around a quarter of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and is the primary driver of global declines in biodiversity. Land sparing, which seeks to couple increased yields on farmland with the conservation of natural vegetation cover, has been suggested as a strategy for combatting global biodiversity loss. This project will inform the rapidly growing debate around land sparing to consider its potential contribution to climate change mitigation. Given that spared land can act as a carbon sink, we plan to test the hypothesis that a land sparing strategy could substantially reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Such a finding would have broad appeal, given both the implications for biodiversity conservation and the wider social interest in mitigating climate change.
Indicative analysis suggests the potential for material reductions in emissions under this strategy. We plan to refine the analysis by convening a workshop drawing together experts in crop science, livestock science, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, habitat restoration, carbon sequestration and related policy. The workshop will develop plausible scenarios for emissions from UK agriculture to 2050, under a strategy of yield increases coupled with land sparing. Results will be interpreted in view of the UK’s target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (relative to 1990 levels) by 2050. Where appropriate our findings will be used to inform policy relating to land-use planning and agriculture.