2014-02-20Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/9/2/024011
Will the world run out of land?
A Kaya-type decomposition to study past trends of cropland expansion
Globally, the further expansion of cropland is limited by the availability of adequate land and by the necessity to spare land for nature conservation and carbon sequestration. Analyzing the causes of past landuse changes can help to better understand the potential drivers of land scarcities of the future. Using the FAOSTAT database, we quantify the contribution of four major factors, namely human population growth, rising percapita caloric consumption (including food intake and household waste), processing losses (including conversion of vegetal into animal products and nonfood use of crops), and yield gains, to cropland expansion rates of the past (1961–2007). We employ a Kayatype decomposition method that we have adapted to be applicable to drivers of cropland expansion at global and national level. Our results indicate that, all else equal, without the yield gains observed globally since 1961, additional land of the size of Australia would have been put under the plough by 2007. Under this scenario the planetary boundary on global cropland use would have already been transgressed today. By contrast, without rising percapita caloric consumption and population growth since 1961, an area as large as nearly half and all of Australia could have been spared, respectively. Yield gains, with strongest contributions from maize, wheat and rice, have approximately offset the increasing demand of a growing world population. Analyses at the national scale reveal different modes of landuse transitions dependent on development stage, dietary standards, and international trade intensity of the countries. Despite some wellacknowledged caveats regarding the nonindependence of decomposition factors, these results contribute to the empirical ranking of different drivers needed to set research priorities and prepare wellinformed projections of landuse change until 2050 and beyond.