Spatial Variation in Environmental Impacts of Sugarcane Expansion in Brazil

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In the past decades, sugarcane production in Brazil has expanded rapidly to meet increasing ethanol demand. The large majority of this expansion occurred in Sao Paulo state. We used an integrated approach considering location-specific biophysical characteristics to determine the environmental impacts of sugarcane expansion and their spatial variation in Sao Paulo state (2004–2015). The included environmental impacts are greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, biodiversity, soil erosion, and water quantity. All impacts were integrated into a single environmental performance index to determine trade-offs between impacts. Our results show a strong spatial variation in environmental impacts and trade-offs between them. The magnitude and direction of these impacts are mostly driven by the type of land use change and by the heterogeneity of the biophysical conditions. Areas where expansion of sugar cane has resulted in mostly negative environmental impacts are located in the center and east of the state (related to the change of shrublands, eucalyptus, and forest), while areas where sugar cane expansion has resulted in positive impacts are located in the center-west and north (related to the change of annual crops). Identifying areas with mainly positive and negative impacts enables the development of strategies to mitigate negative effects and enhance positive ones for future sugarcane expansion.
Original languageEnglish
Article number397
Number of pages20
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • sugarcane
  • land-use change
  • environmental impacts
  • trade-offs
  • spatially explicit
  • biofuels


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