Beyond Land Use Change

There is a growing need to address climate forced changes to the land cover, as well as looking at land use change.

Our paper comparing Climate Induced Land Cover Change (CILCC) to LULCC (Land Use Land Cover Change) in the Land Use special issue in Global Biogeochemical Cycles compares the changes in land cover from the changing climate (as carbon dioxide increases) and from land use change (human land requirements). We found that despite LULCC being a main research topic for terrestrial climate scientists, actually the neglected topic of CILCC was much more important in terms of land area affected and carbon emitted. We suggested that if how much research is done on a topic is influenced by how much affect it has on the climate, that we should look at CILCC more than we do LULCC. At present, LULCC is a much more popular topic than CILCC, so this is a call to arms.

That’s just one paper, but there is a gathering zeitgeist about this subject. In the same special issue, Schneck et al. look at how anthropogenic LCC (LULCC) can be offset by natural land cover change (aka CILCC) on the millennial scale. Again, they show that climate forced changes to vegetation are important.

Earlier in the year, Ahlstrom et al published a paper in Environmental Research Letters showing that dynamic vegetation (aka CILCC) is a significant part of the terrestrial carbon cycle.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Almut Arneth had an opinion piece in Nature highlighting the complexities of the patterns of land use that emerge from human and climate drivers and calling for better accounting for land cover change in modelling.

The terminology for discussing this isn’t quite ‘set’, so it’s more challenging to see how these papers are connected. The use of the term ‘natural’ and ‘anthropogenic’ for CILCC and LULCC is problematic since it infers that the climate forced changes are natural, when in fact they are forced by anthropogenic climate change. I got argued down on anthropogenic too, as it infers that the other isn’t anthropogenic. I like the simplicity of natural vs anthropogenic and completely understand why others have used it. But in the end, I created the term CILCC because it fitted so nicely with LULCC (which has become a standard term).

Whatever you’re going to call it (obviously I’m in favour of CILCC), this is topic that we can’t afford to ignore any longer.