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Assessing global land use: Balancing consumption with sustainable supply.A Report of the Working Group on Land and Soils of the International Resource Panel

Abstract

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.

As an interim target, the report proposes 0.20 hectares (1,970 square metres) of cropland per person by 2030. Monitoring global land use of countries and regions for their domestic consumption gives an indication of whether they have exceeded or are within their safe operating space.For the European Union, for instance, 0.31 hectares per person were required in 2007.
This is one-fourth more than what is domestically available in the EU, is one-third more that the globally available per person cropland in 2007, and it well above the 0.20 per person SOS target for 2030.

The report says that the key causes of our global challenges are linked to unsustainable and disproportionate consumption levels, but in high-consuming countries only a few policy instruments address excessive consumption habits and the structures that encourage them.At the same time, with an expanding global populationand a worldwide trend towards urbanization, up to 5 per cent of the global land (around 15 billion hectares) is expected to be covered by built-up areas by 2050.

Up to 319 million hectares of land can be saved by 2050, if the world follows acombination of measures designed to keep cropland expansion within the ‘safe operating space’.
These measures include:
•Improve land management and land use planning in order to minimize the expansion of build-up land on fertile soils;
•Invest in the restoration of degraded land;•Improve agricultural production practices to increase intensification in an ecologically and socially acceptable way;
•Monitor global land use requirements of countries for the total consumption of agricultural goods in order to allow comparisons with the global average and sustainable supply and implications on sectoral policies;•Reduce food waste and shift towards more vegetable diets;
•Reduce the subsidization of fuel crops – including the reduction and phase out of biofuel quotas in consuming countries.

More Findings from the Report
•More than half of the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer ever produced has been used up in the past 25 years.
•By 2005, the 10 largest seed corporations controlled half of all commercial seed sales; the top 5 grain trading companies controlled 75 per cent of the market, and the 10 largest pesticide manufacturers supplied 84 per cent of pesticides.
•International agricultural trade has increased tenfold since the 1960s.
•A global agricultural trade has emerged, characterized by high levels of agribusiness concentration, a rapid increase in the share of retail food sales by supermarket chains, and growth in the trade of foodstuffs, fertilizers and pesticides.
•Food prices remain below their peak in 2008, but are higher than pre-crisis levels in many developing countries.

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