Carbon emissions from land acquisitions in Laos

Ecology and Society| 5 October 2022

Carbon emissions from land acquisitions in Laos

Author:  Bauernschuster, S., M. Pichler, V. Nanhthavong, R. Bernhard, M. Epprecht, and S. Gingrich.

Large-scale land acquisitions repeatedly fall short of their acclaimed socioeconomic benefits and are associated with unintended social, economic, and ecological costs. In Laos, the government has started to question its own “Turning Land into Capital” policy, and reviews land acquisitions or concessions with regard to their socioeconomic impacts.

Empirical investigations of environmental impacts of land concessions, however, remain underrepresented. We link the nation-wide concession development between 2001 and 2017 with associated land use changes and quantify related land use change-induced emissions. Results show that land acquisitions for agriculture, forestry, and mining affect mainly forests and land previously used for shifting cultivation and permanent agriculture; e.g., rice paddies.

Consequently, land conversions caused by concessions resulted in net carbon emissions of 4.9 Mt CO2 e yr-1 on average in 2001–2017, which amounted to 34% of total emissions from land conversions. Even tree plantations that are meant to serve as net carbon sinks caused net emissions, but those data are the least robust.

The relatively low carbon emission intensity of shifting cultivation compared to the high carbon emission intensity of concessions challenges the dominant narrative of shifting cultivation as a causal factor for forest degradation. Political means of fostering sustainable development include the reduction of land acquisitions because of their emissions intensity, and minimization of emissions and social conflict induced by granted concessions, for example, by allocating land with low carbon densities and obtaining consent of local land users.

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Carbon emissions from land acquisition in Laos
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