Patrick Meyfroidt, Université Catholique de Louvain
Ariane de Bremond, University of Bern
Casey M. Ryan, The University of Edinburgh
Emma Archer, University of Pretoria
Richard Aspinall, The James Hutton Institute
Abha Chhabra, Indian Space Research Organization
Gilberto Camara, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais
Rinku Roy Chowdhury, Clark UniversityFollow
Esteve Corbera, UAB Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnología Ambientales
Ruth DeFries, Columbia University
Sandra Díaz, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba
Jinwei Dong, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research Chinese Academy of Sciences
Erle C. Ellis, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
Karl Heinz Erb, Universitat fur Bodenkultur Wien
Janet A. Fisher, The University of Edinburgh
Rachael D. Garrett, ETH Zürich
Nancy E. Golubiewski, Data
H. Ricardo Grau, Universidad Nacional de Tucuman (UNT)
J. Morgan Grove, USDA Forest Service
Helmut Haberl, Universitat fur Bodenkultur Wien
Andreas Heinimann, University of Bern
Patrick Hostert, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Esteban G. Jobbágy, Universidad Nacional de San Luis
Suzi Kerr, Environmental Defense Fund
Tobias Kuemmerle, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Eric F. Lambin, Université Catholique de Louvain
Sandra Lavorel, Université Grenoble Alpes
Sharachandra Lele, ATREE
Ole Mertz, Københavns Universitet
Peter Messerli, University of Bern
Graciela Metternicht, UNSW Sydney
Darla K. Munroe, The Ohio State University
Harini Nagendra, Azim Premji University

Document Type



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.

Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Publication Date











governance, land use, social-ecological systems, sustainability

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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Geography Commons



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