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Abandoned Farmland Regeneration Can Mitigate Climate Change

Rundown barn on abandoned farm land

Jesse Zheng/

A new study, “Rural Land Abandonment Is Too Ephemeral to Provide Major Benefits for Biodiversity and Climate,” from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs published in the journal Science Advances analyzed the phenomenon of farmers worldwide moving to urban centers due to finances, conflicts or climate change. This rural outmigration is leaving hundreds of millions of acres of cropland abandoned, affording an opportunity for ecological restoration and carbon sequestration that could lead to a positive impact on the climate crisis if the land is allowed to regenerate. The report states, “Unless policymakers take steps to reduce recultivation or provide incentives for regeneration, abandonment will remain a missed opportunity to reduce biodiversity loss and climate change.”

David Wilcove, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs at the High Meadows Environmental Institute, one of the co-authors of the study, says, “As people move from rural areas into cities, there is a chance for wildlife and the climate to gain ground, literally, as abandoned farms and pastures revert back to forests and grasslands.” However, he also notes, “Our work shows that this is not happening, because the abandoned lands are being rapidly recultivated.”