A new report published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) “Ten Facts about Land Systems for Sustainability” is a study intended to inform policies aimed at addressing challenges such as how to limit the impacts of climate change, the design of sustainable food and energy production systems, the protection of biodiversity and the balance of competing claims to land ownership. It also details the implications that policy makers need to consider if they hope to develop economically, culturally and environmentally sustainable solutions to these complex challenges. A accompanying report offers specific images, charts and examples to help policy makers and the public understand what is at stake at this critical time in global development.
“Global agreements on climate change, biodiversity and development are increasingly focused on land management as a solution to a long list of challenges,” said Ariane de Bremond, Director General of the Global Land Program (GLP), which brought the authors together to develop the study. “It is truly urgent that policy makers understand that achieving our sustainable development goals in an equitable way will require policies that take into account the ten facts explained in the study.”
The study included an international team of 50 leading land use scientists. The main authors are Patrick Meyfroidt, professor at the Institute of Life Sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain; Ariane Brémond, General Manager of the GLP in Switzerland; Casey Ryan, Lecturer in Ecosystem Services and Global Change at the University of Edinburgh in Britain; Emma Archer, professor of geography at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Erle Ellis, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County (UMBC) in the United States and a GLP fellow, is also a collaborator on the project.
The scientists represent a total of 20 countries, including the United States, Barcelona, Ethiopia, India, Austria and Denmark. Contributing researchers also come from various universities and institutions, including Stanford University and Columbia University in the United States; Hokkaido University in Japan; Humboldt University of Berlin; and the Basque Center for Climate Change in the Basque Country.
“Many political projects, such as reforestation to absorb carbon or the creation of nature conservation areas, ignore the lessons learned by Earth system scientists,” said Dr. Navin Ramankutty, co-chair of the Global Land Program and professor at the University of British Columbia. “This document presents a checklist of basic facts that need to be considered in developing effective land policies.”
The ten facts described in the study speak to the relationship people have with the land itself on a physical level as well as the social, economic, cultural, environmental and spiritual implications of how land use decisions are taken and by whom. These facts, as jointly identified by the co-authors of the study, are as follows:
1. Meanings and values of land are socially constructed and contested. Different groups place different values on what makes land useful, degraded or culturally significant. Top-down political agendas are often rooted in a dominant value system.
2. Earth systems exhibit complex behaviors with abrupt and difficult to predict changes. Policy interventions usually aim to solve a particular problem, but often fail when they ignore the complexity of the system. Addressing a problem in isolation can lead to unintended damage to natural areas and people.
3. Irreversible change and path dependency are common characteristics of Earth systems. The conversion of land from one use to another, such as the clearing of ancient forests, leads to changes felt decades or even centuries later. Restoration rarely returns land to a state that truly matches original conditions.
4. Some land uses have a small footprint but very large impacts. Cities, for example, consume large amounts of resources that are often produced elsewhere using large tracts of land; they can also reduce negative impacts by concentrating human populations in a relatively small land footprint. Net impacts can be difficult to measure and predict.
5. The drivers and impacts of land-use change are globally interconnected and ripple out to distant places. Due to globalization, land use can be influenced by remote people, economic forces, policies or organizations and decisions.
6. We live on a used planet where all land provides benefits to societies. People directly inhabit, use or manage more than three quarters of the Earth’s ice-free land, of which more than 25% is inhabited and used by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC). Even uninhabited lands relate to people in different ways; no change in land use anywhere is free from trade-offs.
7. Land-use change usually involves trade-offs between different benefits — “win-wins” are rare. While land use provides a range of benefits, such as food, timber and sacred spaces, it also often involves trade-offs for nature and certain communities of people. Land use decisions involve value judgments in determining which benefits to prioritize and for whom.
8. Land tenure and land use claims are often unclear, overlapping and contested. Land use and access rights may overlap, belong to different people or have different types of access as in ownership or use rights.
9. The benefits and burdens of the land are unequally distributed. A small number of people own a disproportionate amount of land and land value in most countries of the world.
10. Land users have multiple, sometimes conflicting ideas about what social and environmental justice entails. There is no single form of justice that is fair to all. Justice means different things to and for different people, from recognition of Indigenous groups’ claim to land, to impacts on future generations, to the systems used to determine which claims are prioritized.
These facts shape the effectiveness and social and environmental impacts of policies and decisions affecting land, climate change mitigation and adaptation, food availability, biodiversity and human health. The study also identifies approaches that policy makers need to consider when working to address the challenges that are affected by land use.
The authors also encourage policymakers to recognize that trade-offs are far more common than win-win solutions, and policies that explicitly recognize this dynamic and the importance of continuous evaluation and recalibration are likely to produce results. fairer. Land use governance can be improved by recognizing unclear and overlapping claims to land and property rights and developing systems that take into account the rights and perspectives of marginalized groups.
“It is time to go beyond a quest for ‘sustainable land use’ and think instead of ‘achieving sustainability through land use’, concludes Patrick Meyfroidt. “I hope these facts and their implications can provide a stronger foundation for much-needed conversations about land use and sustainability as global policy is developed.”
“How we use our land will determine whether humanity can rise to the challenge of addressing climate change equitably, halting biodiversity loss and providing decent livelihoods for all,” Casey Ryan added. “This work brings together decades of work to show why managing land for sustainability is so difficult, and it also shows how it can be done.”
Global Land Programme, a research project of Future Earth, is an interdisciplinary community of science and practice fostering the study of Earth systems and the co-design of solutions for global sustainability. Learn more about @GlobalLandP.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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Ten facts about tenure systems for sustainability
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