Assessing the Global Warming Potential of Human Settlement Expansion

  • 8 January 2016
  • Number of views: 2110
Assessing the Global Warming Potential of Human Settlement Expansion

Discussions of the anthropogenic contribution to climate change often focus on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, but these emissions are not the only anthropogenic forcing. Changes to land use and land cover—from agriculture, forestry, or urban/suburban development—can also trigger changes not only in emissions, but also uptake and sequestration in soil and above ground biomass such as trees.

A new study supported by AC4 and published in Science of the Total Environment explores the biophysical implications of future human settlement expansion. Reinmann et al. use EPA’s Integrated Climate and Land Use Scenarios model to project changes in Massachusetts through 2050.

They project an increase in development and a decrease in forest cover in Massachusetts, which decreases carbon sequestration. However, vegetation within human settlements may offset some of this decrease sequestration.

Ultimately, they project that “changes in albedo and terrestrial C fluxes are expected to result in a global warming potential (GWP) of + 0.13 Mg CO2–C-equivalence ha—1 year—1 under the baseline trajectory, which is equivalent to 17% of the projected increase in fossil fuel emissions.”

This study underscores the importance of considering urbanization when projecting future climate changes.

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