Ten facts about land systems for sustainability

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2109217118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 15 2022


  • Governance
  • Land use
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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