Global agriculture and carbon trade-offs

Justin Andrew Johnson, Carlisle Ford Runge, Benjamin Senauer, Jonathan Foley, Stephen Polasky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Feeding a growing and increasingly affluent world will require expanded agricultural production, which may require converting grasslands and forests into cropland. Such conversions can reduce carbon storage, habitat provision, and other ecosystem services, presenting difficult societal trade-offs. In this paper, we use spatially explicit data on agricultural productivity and carbon storage in a global analysis to find where agricultural extensification should occur to meet growing demand while minimizing carbon emissions from land use change. Selective extensification saves ∼6 billion metric tons of carbon compared with a business-as-usual approach, with a value of approximately $1 trillion (2012 US dollars) using recent estimates of the social cost of carbon. This type of spatially explicit geospatial analysis can be expanded to include other ecosystem services and other industries to analyze how to minimize conflicts between economic development and environmental sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12342-12347
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 26 2014


  • Cropland expansion
  • Food security


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