Quantifying the relative importance of land cover change from climate and land use in the representative concentration pathways

T. Davies-Barnard*, P. J. Valdes, J. S. Singarayer, A. J. Wiltshire, C. D. Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
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Climate change is projected to cause substantial alterations in vegetation distribution, but these have been given little attention in comparison to land use in the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios. Here we assess the climate-induced land cover changes (CILCC) in the RCPs and compare them to land use land cover change (LULCC). To do this, we use an ensemble of simulations with and without LULCC in Earth System Model HadGEM2-ES (Hadley Centre Global Environmental Model 2) - for RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5. We find that climate change causes an expansion poleward of vegetation that affects more land area than LULCC in all of the RCPs considered here. The terrestrial carbon changes from CILCC are also larger than for LULCC. When considering only forest, the LULCC is larger, but the CILCC is highly variable with the overall radiative forcing of the scenario. The CILCC forest increase compensates 90% of the global anthropogenic deforestation by 2100 in RCP8.5 but just 3% in RCP2.6. Overall, bigger land cover changes tend to originate from LULCC in the shorter term or lower radiative forcing scenarios and from CILCC in the longer term and higher radiative forcing scenarios. The extent to which CILCC could compensate for LULCC raises difficult questions regarding global forest and biodiversity offsetting, especially at different time scales. This research shows the importance of considering the relative size of CILCC to LULCC, especially with regard to the ecological effects of the different RCPs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)842-853
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Accepted manuscript online 27 May 2015


  • Climate change impacts
  • Deforestation
  • Land use change
  • Representative Concentration Pathways
  • Vegetation shifts


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