The new competition for land: Food, energy, and climate change
The paper addresses the new competition for land arising from growing and changing demand for food when combined with increasing global demand for transport energy, under conditions of declining petro-chemical resources and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The paper starts from the premise of a ‘food, energy and environment trilemma’ (Tilman et al., 2009), where all demands to expand the area of cultivated land present high risks of increasing the carbon footprint of agriculture. Having reviewed the main drivers of demand for food and for liquid transport fuels, the paper weighs the controversies surrounding biofuels arising from food-price spikes, the demand for land, and consequent direct and indirect land-use change. It suggests that we need a more complex, and geographically differentiated, analysis of the interactions between direct and indirect land-use change. The paper then reviews evidence of land availability, and suggests that in addition to technical availability in terms of soil, water, and climate, political, social, and technological factors have significantly shaped the competition for land in different global regions, particularly the three major biofuel producing ones of the USA, Brazil and Europe. This point is further developed by reviewing the different innovation pathways for biofuels in these three regions. The main conclusion of this review is firstly that any analysis requires an integrated approach to the food-energy-environment trilemma, and secondly that strategic political direction of innovation and sustainability regulation are required to bring about major shifts in agriculture leading to sustainable intensification of cultivation (Royal Society, 2009), rather than the continued expansion of cultivated area. The consequent perspective is one of considerable global variety in technologies, agricultural productive systems, and use of natural resources. This contrasts sharply with the world of a dominant global and integrated technology platform based on petro-chemicals to which we have become accustomed.
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