Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry Sector Emissions
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Plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere as they grow, and they store some of the carbon throughout their lifetime. Soils can also store CO2, depending on how the soil is managed. This storage of carbon in plants and soils is called biological carbon sequestration. Because biological sequestration takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, it is also called a greenhouse gas "sink."
Emissions or sequestration of CO2 can occur as land uses change. For example, CO2 is exchanged between the atmosphere and the plants and soils on land as former cropland is converted into grassland, as new areas are cultivated and become cropland, or as forests grow. In addition, using biological feedstocks (such as energy crops or wood) for purposes such as electricity generation, input to processes that create liquid fuels, or building materials can lead to emissions or sequestration.
In the United States overall, since 1990 land use, land-use change, and forestry activities have resulted in more removal of CO2 from the atmosphere than emissions. Because of this, the Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) sector in the United States is considered a net sink, rather than a source, of CO2 over this period. In many areas of the world, the opposite is true: In countries where large areas of forest land are cleared, often for agricultural purposes or for settlements, the LULUCF sector can be a net source of greenhouse gas emissions.
- More national-level information about land use, land-use change, and forestry is available from the Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry chapter in the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks.
- See EPA's Global Greenhouse Gas emissions page for more information about global GHG emissions from land use and forestry activities.
- For more information about global emissions from land use and forestry activities, see the Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Emissions and Trends
In 2014, the net CO2 removed from the atmosphere from the LULUCF sector offset about 11% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Forests (including vegetation, soils, and harvested wood) accounted for approximately 87% of the total 2014 LULUCF CO2 removals.
The net carbon sequestration by the LULUCF sector has increased by about 5% since 1990, largely as a result of changes in the land area of forests and improved forest management.
To learn about projected greenhouse gas emissions to 2020, visit the U.S. Climate Action Report 2014 (PDF) (310 pp., 23.1 MB).
Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals from U.S. Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry*
Reducing Emissions and Enhancing Sinks from Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry
In the LULUCF sector, opportunities exist to reduce emissions and increase the potential to sequester carbon from the atmosphere by enhancing sinks. The table shown below provides some examples of opportunities for both reducing emissions and enhancing sinks. For a more comprehensive list, see Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 of the Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
|Type||How Emissions are Reduced or Sinks are Enhanced Examples||Examples|
|Change in Uses of Land||Increasing carbon storage by using land differently or maintaining carbon storage by avoiding land degradation.||
|Changes in Land Management Practices||Improving management practices on existing land-use types.||