Changes in the management of existing agricultural land can warm the local climate to an extent similar to that resulting from the conversion of natural vegetation to farmland, according to research published online this week in Nature Climate Change. These findings demonstrate the challenges of meeting growing food demand without exacerbating climate change.
Sebastiaan Luyssaert and colleagues combined satellite observations with ground measurements from temperate regions of North America and Eurasia to investigate the direct climatic effects of changes in land cover and land management practice. In both cases the net effect - when all cooling and heating influences were accounted for - was localized warming of around 1.7 degrees Celsius.
Consequently, the intensification of agriculture to meet growing food demand will have direct climatic implications that should be considered alongside greenhouse gas emissions when weighing up different policy options.