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Land Use: Agriculture, Forestry, Livestock


How can we scale-up sustainable landscape management to significantly reduce GHG emissions while ensuring food, water, and energy security?
Submit proposals:
Rules: All entrants must agree to the Contest Rules and Terms of Use.
Deadline: Monday, May 23, 2016 at 19:59:59 PM Eastern Standard Time
Judging Criteria & Prizes: See below.


At present, agriculture, livestock and deforestation (AFL) are responsible for 20-30% of net anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Opportunities exist, however, for improved land use to reduce and/or sequester significant amounts of GHGs from the atmosphere while creating more resilient landscapes that increase food security, water availability, energy supply, and human well-being. Many governments have indicated that they expect improved AFL management to play a central part in their strategies to address climate change.

This contest seeks proposals for sustainable land management that can be rapidly implemented and brought to scale. Proposals that explicitly address national (e.g. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or National Adaptation Plans) and/or sub-national (e.g. Rio Branco Declaration) strategies to address the challenges of climate change, and that are aimed at helping countries, states, and communities implement those strategies are encouraged.  

For example:

●      How can Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) or National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) include and result in the global adoption of sustainable land use practices?

●      How can Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) projects be scaled up and nested into jurisdictional landscape programs?

●      How can countries get the tools and financing they need to implement regional and national landscape restoration projects?

●      How can AFL contributions to mitigating or adapting to climate change be monitored and verified efficiently? 

●      How can the potential sources of finance (e.g. the Green Climate Fund, Forest Bonds, Global Environment Facility, private sector investment, etc.) best be used for sustainable landscape management?

●      How will mitigation actions in AFL affect GHG emissions over different timescales?

●      How much does AFL contribute to GHG emissions and how is it changing?

●      How can new business models (such as SunEdison’s approach to the solar photovoltaic industry) scale-up sustainable landscape management?

●      Recognizing that management practices on farms matter (whether big or small), how can we share these practices/technologies globally to reduce our environmental footprint while meeting the nutritional needs of a growing population?

●      What are the co-benefits associated with mitigation actions in AFL and how can these co-benefits be maintained or expanded?

●      Is fish farming a viable and environmentally sustainable solution to meet increasing global food production demands?

●      How can initiatives such as 20x20 (aiming to restore 20 million hectares by 2020) be replicated across the globe? How can businesses play an innovative role in improving the scalability and impact of such initiatives? (e.g. Asia Pulp and Paper participates in the Bonn Challenge)

●      How can we measure the effectiveness of sustainable supply chain commitments (in both forestry and agriculture) being adopted by companies such as Unilever, Nestle and General Mills?

●      What are the barriers to reducing emissions in AFL and how might these be overcome?

●      What solutions would reduce emissions while also providing benefits in terms of economic and social development (i.e. food and nutrition security, rural livelihoods, etc.) in line with the recently released United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

Key Issues


Agriculture both contributes to the negative impacts of climate change and has the potential to mitigate these impacts. Agriculture is a primary source of the three major GHGs (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides). Agriculture accounts for 19-29% of global GHG emissions from human activities. At the same time worldwide, crop yields are expected to decline ~10% with every one degree Celsius rise in global average surface temperatures. Agriculture could play a large role in decreasing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), black carbon (BC) soot, and methane (CH4).  Soils and trees could also sequester significant quantities of CO2 globally. 

Promising climate change mitigation options in the agriculture sector include:

●      restoration of cultivated organic soils,

●      improved cropland management,

●      integrated soil and water conservation,

●      nutrient management,

●      tillage/residue management,

●      water management,

●      agro-forestry,

●      agroecology,

●      diversified farming systems,

●      improved grazing land management,

●      increased landscape productivity,

●      and restoration of degraded lands.


About 30 percent of the global land area is covered by forests, totaling nearly 4,000 million hectares (ha). Net loss of forestland in recent years is about 7 million ha per year, as land is deforested for agriculture and other built environments. Emissions from deforestation are approximately 5 to 15% of total global CO2 emissions.

Given its impact on mitigating warming temperatures, forest protection and conservation have become important aspects of global emissions reduction strategies. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program, and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and Forest Investment Program (FIP), are a few of the larger global initiatives that are defining incentives and carbon-friendly solutions for sustainable development in developing and developed countries. 

The New York Declaration on Forests in September 2014 called for halving the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and striving to end natural forest loss by 2030.  It also called for restoring 150 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands by 2020 and significantly increasing the rate of global restoration thereafter, which would restore at least an additional 200 million hectares by 2030. 

More specifically, there are many ways to reduce GHG emissions from sources and/or to increase GHG removals by carbon sinks in the forest sector. These include:

●      reducing deforestation and degradation,

●      reforestation and afforestation,

●      promoting agro-forestry,

●      expanding operations under sustainable forest management certifications (e.g., Forest Stewardship Council),

●      increasing landscape level carbon density,

●      reducing consumption of deforestation drivers (e.g. palm oil, beef), and 

●      increasing product and fuel substitution, as well as carbon stocks in wood products.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “the livestock sector is the world’s largest user of agricultural land, through grazing and the use of feed crops” and by 2050, demand for livestock products is expected to increase by 70%. Livestock contribute to deforestation and global climate change as forests are cleared to make way for livestock grazing and grow crops for animal feed. Yet, livestock also provide a source of protein and small-scale livestock production provides livelihoods to local communities around the world.

Promising climate mitigation options in the livestock sector include:

●      sustainable, rotational cattle pastures,

●      improved feeding practices,

●      animal husbandry and cattle health management,

●      integrated crop-livestock systems,

●      lowering livestock production and consumption,

●      promoting lower-footprint proteins including pulses, insects and aquaculture,

●      nutrient capture and recycling in manure management, and

wider use of best practices and technologies.

Judging Criteria

Judges will be asked to evaluate proposals on the following criteria: feasibility, novelty, impact and presentation quality.  Winning proposals will be especially strong in at least one of the first three dimensions, and also well presented.  For details about the judging criteria, click here.

You can find the proposal template here, and contest schedule here.


Top proposals in each contest will be awarded...

Judges’ Choice Winner – Strongest overall
Popular Choice Winner – Received the most votes during the voting period
Impact Award – Largest impact and highly feasible
Novelty Award – Most innovative

The Judges’ and Popular Choice Winners will be invited to MIT to present their proposal, enter the Climate CoLab Winners Program and be eligible for the $10,000 Grand Prize. All award winners will receive wide recognition and visibility by the MIT Climate CoLab. 

All Finalists are asked to submit a 3-minute video outlining their proposal.  Videos will be featured on the MIT Climate CoLab website and Winners will show their videos at the conference.

If your proposal is included in a top global climate action plan, you will receive CoLab Points, which are redeemable for cash prizes.  

Resources for Proposal Authors

UNFCCC. 2015. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. Twenty-first Session of the Conference of the Parties. Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015. See, especially, Article 5.

Meyer, C. 2015. Three Cheers for REDD+ and Forests in the Paris Climate Agreement. EDF, December 15, 2015. 

Bueno, G. 2015. Forests Gain Long-awaited Recognition in Paris Climate Summit. The Conversation, December 18, 2015.

Governors’ Climate and Forests Fund. 2015. Rio Branco Declaration and INDCs: Stimulating Early Action and Closing the Emissions Gap.

Harvey, C. A., Chacón, M., Donatti, C. I., Garen, E., Hannah, L., Andrade, A., ... & Clement, C. 2014. Climate‐Smart Landscapes: Opportunities and Challenges for Integrating Adaptation and Mitigation in Tropical Agriculture. Conservation Letters, 7(2), 77-90.

EDF Group & Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). 2012.Water, Food and Energy Nexus [s.l.]: EDF Group & CPWF.

Altieri, M. A., Nicholls, C. I., Henao, A., & Lana, M. A. 2015. Agroecology and the design of climate change-resilient farming systems. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 35(3), 869-890.

Godfray, H. C. J., et al. 2010. "Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People." Science 327(5967): 812-818.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2015. “Livestock and the environment.”  FAO.

Nepstad, D., McGrath, D., Stickler, C., Alencar, A., Azevedo, A., Swette, B., ... & Armijo, E. 2014. Slowing Amazon deforestation through public policy and interventions in beef and soy supply chains. Science, 344(6188), 1118-1123.

IPCC. 2000. Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry.

IPCC. 2007a. Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 8: Agriculture

IPCC. 2007a. Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 9: Forestry

IPCC. 2007c. Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Chapter 5: Food, Fibre, and Forest Products.

IPCC 2014. Climate Change 2014: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change. Chapter 11: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU).

United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals 2015.

World Bank, Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF).

World Resources Institute, Global Forest Watch Map 2014

World Resources Institute, Building National Forest and Land-Use Information Systems: Lessons from Cameroon, Indonesia, and Peru(February 2014)

World Wildlife Fund, Facing the Challenge Together: Sustainable Food for the 21st Century. Nov 17 2015

Initiative 20x20: United Nations Environment Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature join forces to restore forest ecosystems (September 2014)

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) Resources: Publications

Steenwerth et al.Climate-smart agriculture global research agenda: scientific basis for actionAgriculture & Food Security 2014 3:11.

FAO. 2013. Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy.

FAO. 2007. Adaptation to Climate Change in Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries: perspective, framework and priorities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy.

World Bank. 2007. Climate change adaptation in Africa: a microeconomic analysis of livestock choice. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4277.

Announcements on forests at the 2014 UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit: Action Statements and Plans. Also see United Nations 2014 New York Declaration on Forests.