Current challenges of implementing anthropogenic land-use and land-cover change in models contributing to climate change assessments

Reinhard Prestele*, Almut Arneth, Alberte Bondeau, Nathalie de Noblet-Ducoudré, Thomas A.M. Pugh, Stephen Sitch, Elke Stehfest, Peter H. Verburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Land-use and land-cover change (LULCC) represents one of the key drivers of global environmental change. However, the processes and drivers of anthropogenic land-use activity are still overly simplistically implemented in terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs). The published results of these models are used in major assessments of processes and impacts of global environmental change, such as the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Fully coupled models of climate, land use and biogeochemical cycles to explore land use-climate interactions across spatial scales are currently not available. Instead, information on land use is provided as exogenous data from the land-use change modules of integrated assessment models (IAMs) to TBMs. In this article, we discuss, based on literature review and illustrative analysis of empirical and modeled LULCC data, three major challenges of this current LULCC representation and their implications for land use-climate interaction studies: (I) provision of consistent, harmonized, land-use time series spanning from historical reconstructions to future projections while accounting for uncertainties associated with different land-use modeling approaches, (II) accounting for sub-grid processes and bidirectional changes (gross changes) across spatial scales, and (III) the allocation strategy of independent land-use data at the grid cell level in TBMs. We discuss the factors that hamper the development of improved land-use representation, which sufficiently accounts for uncertainties in the land-use modeling process. We propose that LULCC data-provider and user communities should engage in the joint development and evaluation of enhanced LULCC time series, which account for the diversity of LULCC modeling and increasingly include empirically based information about sub-grid processes and land-use transition trajectories, to improve the representation of land use in TBMs. Moreover, we suggest concentrating on the development of integrated modeling frameworks that may provide further understanding of possible land-climate-society feedbacks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-386
Number of pages18
JournalEarth System Dynamics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2017

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