In recent decades, the carbon sink provided by the U.S. forest sector has offset a sizable portion of domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the future, the magnitude of this sink has important implications not only for projected U.S. net GHG emissions under a reference case but also for the cost of achieving a given mitigation target. The larger the contribution of the forest sector towards reducing net GHG emissions, the less mitigation is needed from other sectors. Conversely, if the forest sector begins to contribute a smaller sink, or even becomes a net source, mitigation requirements from other sectors may need to become more stringent and costlier to achieve economywide emissions targets. There is acknowledged uncertainty in estimates of the carbon sink provided by the U.S. forest sector, attributable to large ranges in the projections of, among other things, future economic conditions, population growth, policy implementation, and technological advancement. We examined these drivers in the context of an economic model of the agricultural and forestry sectors, to demonstrate the importance of cross-sector interactions on projections of emissions and carbon sequestration. Using this model, we compared detailed scenarios that differ in their assumptions of demand for agriculture and forestry products, trade, rates of (sub)urbanization, and limits on timber harvest on protected lands. We found that a scenario assuming higher demand and more trade for forest products resulted in increased forest growth and larger net GHG sequestration, while a scenario featuring higher agricultural demand, ceteris paribus led to forestland conversion and increased anthropogenic emissions. Importantly, when high demand scenarios are implemented conjunctively, agricultural sector emissions under a high income-growth world with increased livestock-product demand are fully displaced by substantial GHG sequestration from the forest sector with increased forest product demand. This finding highlights the potential limitations of single-sector modeling approaches that ignore important interaction effects between sectors.
Importance of cross-sector interactions when projecting forest carbon across alternative socioeconomic futures
Jones, J. P. H., Baker, J. S., Austin, K., Latta, G. S., Wade, C. M., Cai, Y., Aramayo Lipa, L. L., Beach, III, R. H., Ohrel, S., Ragnauth, S., Creason, J., & Cole, J. (2019). Importance of cross-sector interactions when projecting forest carbon across alternative socioeconomic futures. Journal of Forest Economics, 34(3-4), 205-231. https://doi.org/10.1561/112.00000449