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Focali Network Reseachers Propose a New Method for Calculating Land-use Change Carbon Footprints

The world’s agricultural system has come under increasing scrutiny as an important driver of global climate change, creating a demand for indicators that estimate the climatic impacts of agricultural commodities. However, such carbon footprints, in most cases , have not included emissions from land-use change and previously proposed methodologies, which attempted to  include this significant emissions source, suffered from different shortcomings.

Focali network reseachers, Martin Persson and Sabine Henders together with Christel Cederberg, are proposing a new methodology for calculating land-use change carbon footprints for agricultural commodities. They illustrate the methodology by applying it to three of the most prominent agricultural commodities driving tropical deforestation: Brazilian beef and soybeans, and Indonesian palm oil. The main advantage of the methodology is its flexibility: it can be applied in a tiered way, using detailed data where it is available while still allowing for estimation of footprints for a broad set of countries and agricultural commodities; it can be applied at different scales, estimating both national and subnational footprints; it can be adopted to account both for direct (proximate) and indirect drivers of land-use change.

Increasing commercialization and globalization of the land-use change drivers puts the a tool for assessing the environmental impacts of production high on the development agenda. The study, recently published in Global Change Biology Journal, argues that informing consumers about the impacts of consumption and providing incentives for producers to be more environmentally responsibility can contribute to a more sustainable development. The researchers believe that the proposed carbon footprint methodology could help leverage the power needed to alter environmentally destructive land-use practices within the global agricultural system.

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