A new report released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) is a call to action for policymakers worldwide seeking to develop sustainable and equitable solutions to our most urgent global challenges. "Ten Facts about Land Systems for Sustainability" was co-authored by 50 leading land use scientists from 20 countries. A companion report (http://10facts.glp.earth/) offers specific examples to help policymakers and the public understand what's at stake at this critical moment in global development.
"Global agreements on climate change, biodiversity, and development are increasingly focused on land management as the solution to a long list of challenges," said Ariane de Bremond, Executive Officer of the Global Land Programme, which convened the authors to develop the study. "There is a real urgency for decision makers to understand that meeting our sustainable development goals in a way that's equitable will require policies that account for the ten facts explained in the study."
The study is intended to inform policies aimed at addressing challenges like how to limit the impacts of climate change, designing systems for sustainable food and energy production, protecting biodiversity, and balancing competing claims to land ownership. It also details implications for policymakers to consider if they hope to develop economically, culturally, and environmentally sustainable solutions to these complex challenges.
"Many policy projects, such as reforestation to absorb carbon or setting up nature conservation areas, ignore lessons learnt by land system scientists," said Dr. Navin Ramankutty, Co-Chair of the Global Land Programme and Professor at the University of British Columbia. "This paper presents a checklist of basic facts that must be considered in effective policymaking where land is concerned."
The ten facts outlined in the study speak to the relationship people have with the land itself on a physical level as well the social, economic, cultural, environmental, and spiritual implications of how land use decisions are made and by whom. These facts, as jointly identified by the study's co-authors, are:
These facts shape the effectiveness and social and environmental impacts of policies and decisions involving land, from climate change mitigation and adaptation, to food availability, to biodiversity and human health. The study also identifies approaches for policymakers to consider when working to address challenges that are affected by land use. The authors also encourage policymakers to recognize that trade-offs are much more common than win-win solutions, and policies that explicitly acknowledge this dynamic and the importance of ongoing evaluation and recalibration are likely to deliver more equitable outcomes. Land use governance can be improved by acknowledging unclear and overlapping claims to land rights and ownership and developing systems that take into account the rights and perspectives of marginalized groups.
"It is time to move beyond a quest for 'sustainable land uses' and rather think about 'achieving sustainability through land use.'" Patrick Meyfroidt, lead author of the study and professor at UCLouvain in Belgium, concluded. "Hopefully, these facts and their implications can provide more solid foundations for much-needed conversations on land use and sustainability as global policy is developed."
"How we use our land will determine if humanity can rise to the challenge of fairly dealing with climate change, halting biodiversity loss and providing decent livelihoods for all," added Casey Ryan, co-lead author of the study and Reader in ecosystem services and global change at the University of Edinburgh. "This work brings together decades of work to show why it is so hard to manage land for sustainability, but also shows how it can be done."
Global Land Programme (https://glp.earth/), a research project of Future Earth (https://futureearth.org/about/), is an interdisciplinary community of science and practice fostering the study of land systems and the co-design of solutions for global sustainability. Since 2016, Global Land Programme is hosted at the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern.
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