Wasting the Savanna

Igor Heifetz ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

Tim Searchinger and Lyndon Estes are, respectively, a research scholar and associate research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.

In recent years, as governments have begun to protect tropical forests because of the carbon they store, other vast tropical ecosystems have come under increasing threat. These are the wet savannas, which have a mix of grasses, trees and shrubs and receive enough rainfall to grow crops. Farmers are converting these areas to croplands at vast rates, and global studies by the World Bank, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization and others often assume that, because they are not forests, savannas are environmentally expendable. In a new scientific paper, we find that this just isn’t so — at least if the world cares about climate change and biodiversity.