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494. PNAS: Ten Facts About Land Use Sustainability

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In February 2022, a paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) summarizing the 10 facts about land use sustainability based on a review of literatures. The paper is based on the premise that land use is intertwined with sustainability in many ways, including biodiversity conservation, climate change, food security, poverty reduction, and sustainable energy. Knowledge of social-ecological land use systems can play a key role in sustainable land use solutions. Nevertheless, it can also create a distorted notion that there are easy solutions, for example, the false belief that there is a lot of land in the world that belongs to no one and that there are easy solutions.

The Ten facts about land systems for sustainability are summarized in abstract form 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; 

10) land users have multiple, sometimes conflicting, ideas of what social and environmental justice entails. 

While these 10 facts provide important implications for governance, they do not provide absolute answers. Instead, the paper provides the following guidance for researchers and policy makers as they address sustainability challenges in land use.

  • Just solutions to land challenges acknowledge multiple perceptions, beliefs, and values, the multiple visions of justice, and power differentials.
  • Solutions are more successful when they are contextual and adaptive, avoiding silver bullets or “one-size-fits-all” panaceas.
  • Governance of land systems is more effective when considering spillovers across spatial and temporal scales.
  • Policies and management that prevent undesirable and irreversible impacts bring more overall benefits than trying to restore land afterward.
  • Land-use decisions that foster synergies are important but need to be combined with mitigating unavoidable trade-offs and managing demand.
  • To avoid reinforcing inequalities, governance interventions need to explicitly address inequalities and acknowledge unclear land tenure.


Patrick Meyfroidt, et al. Ten facts about land systems for sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Feb 2022, 119 (7) e2109217118; https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2109217118

Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Director, Information Program)