Calls for international coordination of land use to ensure everyone has access to its fruits.
Since 2000, states including the United Kingdom and China have together bought a total area of farmland in Africa and elsewhere that is bigger than Germany to grow food. And countries are producing more crops for export — global cereal exports rose sixfold between 1960 and 2010, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Although food trade can lessen local shortages, it exposes around 200 million poor people in countries such as Algeria, Mexico and Senegal to price shocks when exports from major producers, such as the United States, Russia and Vietnam, collapse. Some countries such as Egypt are reliant on imported food.
Yet global land management is not on the political table. By contrast, climate-change mitigation has been negotiated internationally for 30 years. Air, ice and water are proclaimed officially as global commons — shared resources in which everyone has an equal stake. Treaties protect the atmosphere, Antarctica and the high seas.
Land has no safeguard. The reason: its diverse purposes and stakeholders. Intensive livestock rearing in Iowa, high-rise property in Singapore and timber logging in the Amazonian rainforests are each regulated differently. The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy is a rare example of international cooperation on land, but remains largely unsustainable. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) don’t call explicitly for global coordination of land uses. This is despite access to land resources being central to the goals — notably those on hunger, cities, production and consumption, climate and life on land.
Things are beginning to change. This year, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification will publish its Global Land Outlook, addressing land management in the context of sustainable development. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a report on land use and climate change in 2019. But a stronger case is needed: one that will bring all parties together to coordinate land uses around the world to achieve sustainability.