Assessing global land use: Balancing consumption with sustainable supply | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
December 2014
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This report explores how the management of land-based biomass production and consumption can be developed towards a higher degree of sustainability across different scales: from the sustainable management of soils on the field to the sustainable management of global land use as a whole. Under business as usual conditions, the growing demand for food and non-food biomass could lead to a gross expansion of cropland in the range of 320 to 850 million hectares by 2050.
The report outlines the need and options to balance consumption with sustainable production. It focuses on land-based products, such as food, fuels and fibre, and describes methods to enable countries to determine whether their consumption levels exceed sustainable supply capacities.
At the same time it distinguishes between gross and net expansion of cropland. While net expansion is a result of rising demand for food and non-food biomass – which cannot be compensated by higher yields – gross expansion comprises the shift of cropland to other areas due to losses caused by severe degradation.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, the net expansion of cropland will range from 120 to 500 million hectares by 2050.
Shifts to more protein-rich diets in developing countries and a growing demand for biofuels and biomaterials, especially in developed countries, are increasing the demand for land.
Expansion of such magnitude is simply not compatible with the imperative of sustaining the basic life-supporting services that ecosystems provide such as maintaining soil productivity, regulating water resources, sustaining forest cover or conserving biodiversity.
The report finds that gross expansion of croplands by 2050 could be limited to somewhere between 8% and 37%, provided a multi-pronged strategy is followed for meeting the food, energy and other requirements of the global economy. Such a strategy would need to increase efficiency levels across the life cycle of agricultural commodities and also in the use and re-use of land-based resources.

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.

UNEP work encompasses:

  • Assessing global, regional and national environmental conditions and trends

Data provider

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD) is a Convention to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.


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