Ten facts about land systems for sustainability

Meyfroidt, Patrick; de Bremond, Ariane; Ryan, Casey M.; Archer, Emma; Aspinall, Richard; Chhabra, Abha; Camara, Gilberto; Corbera, Esteve; DeFries, Ruth S.; Díaz, Sandra; Dong, Jinwei; Ellis, Erle C.; Erb, Karl-Heinz; Fisher, Janet A.; Garrett, Rachael D.; Golubiewski, Nancy E.; Grau, H. Ricardo; Grove, J. Morgan; Haberl, Helmut; Heinimann, Andreas; Hostert, Patrick; Jobbágy, Esteban G.; Kerr, Suzi; Kuemmerle, Tobias; Lambin, Eric F.; Lavorel, Sandra; Lele, Sharachandra; Mertz, Ole; Messerli, Peter; Metternicht, Graciela; Munroe, Darla K.; Nagendra, Harini; Nielsen, Jonas Østergaard; Ojima, Dennis S.; Parker, Dawn Cassandra; Pascual, Unai; Porter, John R.; Ramankutty, Navin; Reenberg, Anette; Roy Chowdhury, Rinku; Seto, Karen C.; Seufert, Verena; Shibata, Hideaki; Thomson, Allison; Turner II, Billie L.; Urabe, Jotaro; Veldkamp, Tom; Verburg, Peter H.; Zeleke, Gete; zu Ermgassen, Erasmus K. H. J.

Land use is central to addressing sustainability issues, including biodiversity conservation, climate change, food security, poverty alleviation, and sustainable energy. In this paper, we synthesize knowledge accumulated in land system science, the integrated study of terrestrial social-ecological systems, into 10 hard truths that have strong, general, empirical support. These facts help to explain the challenges of achieving sustainability in land use and thus also point toward solutions. The 10 facts are as follows: 1) Meanings and values of land are socially constructed and contested; 2) land systems exhibit complex behaviors with abrupt, hard-to-predict changes; 3) irreversible changes and path dependence are common features of land systems; 4) some land uses have a small footprint but very large impacts; 5) drivers and impacts of land-use change are globally interconnected and spill over to distant locations; 6) humanity lives on a used planet where all land provides benefits to societies; 7) land-use change usually entails trade-offs between different benefits—"win–wins" are thus rare; 8) land tenure and land-use claims are often unclear, overlapping, and contested; 9) the benefits and burdens from land are unequally distributed; and 10) land users have multiple, sometimes conflicting, ideas of what social and environmental justice entails. The facts have implications for governance, but do not provide fixed answers. Instead they constitute a set of core principles which can guide scientists, policy makers, and practitioners toward meeting sustainability challenges in land use.


Also Published In

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

More About This Work

Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Published Here
March 2, 2022