In a newly published book, COUPLED researchers examine how global land-use change can be better understood through ‘telecoupling’

Land use is essential to our well-being and therefore central to many of the largest sustainability challenges in the 21st Century, including global food security, climate change mitigation, access to clean water and air, and biodiversity conservation. However, finding pathways for sustainable land use is difficult because of the complex processes of globalization that tie distant places together. Scholars in the field of land system science have started analysing such global connections between different places through the concept of ‘telecoupling’ – which is the focus of a new book just published with Palgrave McMillan by Dr. Cecilie Friis and Prof. Jonas Ø. Nielsen, both researchers at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) and part of COUPLED. The book is titled Telecoupling. Exploring land-use change in a globalised world.

“We are talking about telecoupling as networks of long-distance flows”, the authors explain. “These flows can consist of raw materials, energy, and products, but also of people, information, policies, technology, and capital.” For example, the production of pork in Lower-Saxony, Germany, is only possible because of imports of soy for feed from Brazil, imports that are in turn influenced by, and influence other ‘flows’ including trade-relationship, technological transfers and information flows.”  In our everyday lives, we often don’t consider how the products we consume are directly and indirectly connected to far away land-use changes such as deforestation of the tropical and dry forests. A process that facilitates the production of soy used to feed livestock like pigs in Lower-Saxony”, the researchers say. With their book, they want to contribute to a better understanding of this spatial decoupling of production and consumption of land based products. “Land resources are limited on Earth, and we must decide wisely how to use them. Understanding what drives particular land-use changes is crucial in this respect.”

Friis and Nielsen have been working on land-use changes, their causes and consequences for a long time. For their book, they invited a large group of world-class scholars including several COUPLED colleagues to contribute. Together they examine the conditions that define telecoupling, the outcomes produced by them, the governance tools available to steer telecoupled systems onto desired pathways, as well as methods to capture flows across distances.

“The idea of the book came about because we wanted to consolidate our knowledge of telecoupled land-use change as well as invite prominent scholars to reflect upon this concept and how it might help us capture the global connections that define land-use change in particular places”, the two geographers say. “It was important for us to make a book. Land system science is a field defined by journal articles but books do something different, namely reflect in a collective and organized matter on an important topic such as how to make our world more sustainable. We hope our book contributes to this agenda as well as to science”, Friis and Nielsen continue. “Also for COUPLED it was important to bring the project’s senior scientists and early-stage researchers together in order to set a scientific agenda. To make a splash so to speak: here we are! This I believe the book achieves. It is an early but very strong scientific output of COUPLED”, Nielsen states.

The book is divided into three parts, Overview, Topics, and Agenda. The Overview section provides a coherent presentation of the field of telecoupling research and describes the emergence of the concept in land systems science, how it is currently understood, and how causal explanation can be derived with a telecoupling approach. In Topics, the telecoupling concept is used in nine chapters to analyse some of the most pressing concerns of contemporary global land-use change such as conservation, urbanization, livelihood security, and environmental justice. In the Agenda section, the book widens the scope, illustrating how telecoupling research connects to contemporary scientific pursuits for inter- and transdisciplinary research. Interspersed within the Topics section of the book are four so-called Toolboxes. Covering flow, network, spatial and qualitative methodological approaches, the Toolboxes provide the reader with a sense of how to do telecoupling research.

All the chapters stand alone, and can be read individually, but build and expand upon each other. “Reading the book in its entirety will therefore be rewarding“, the two authors conclude.

Telecoupling is the central topic in the European Union Horizon 2020 funded Innovative Training Network (ITN) COUPLED. Operationalising telecouplings for solving sustainability challenges related to land use (grant agreement No 765408) that Prof. Nielsen coordinates ( The book also contributes to the Global Land Programme’s ( scientific agenda where Prof. Nielsen is on the Scientific Steering Committee and Dr. Friis leads a Working Group on telecoupling.

Friis, C. & J.Ø. Nielsen, ed. (2019): Telecoupling. Exploring Land-Use Change in a Globalised World. Palgrave McMillan.

Dr. Cecilie Friis
Phone: +49 (030) 2093-66349

Prof. Jonas Østergaard Nielsen
Phone: +49 (030) 2093-66341

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment