Land use and sustainability as key challenge of a globalized world: A Telecoupling Approach

Land use is essential to our well-being and therefore central to many of the largest sustainability challenges of today, including global food security, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity conservation.

Finding pathways for a sustainable land use is challenging because of the complex processes of globalization that tie distant places together. For example, the products we consume are often directly or indirectly connected to far away land-use changes such as deforestation of the tropics.

These links are embedded in a net of long-distance flows of products and raw materials, but also of people, information, policies, technology, and capital. These complex flows are difficult to untie and lead in many places to abrupt and unexpected land-use changes.

Scholars in the field of land system science have started analysing such global connections through the concept of telecoupling. COUPLED puts the approach of telecoupling into action for contributing to a better understanding of processes and actors that influence land use in an increasingly interconnected world. By this, we aim to solve sustainability challenges for land use.

Example of telecouplings

COUPLED network

  • COUPLED is a European research and training network, coordinated by Humboldt University Berlin and funded by the European Commission.
  • By 2022, 15 doctoral students will be trained for a more just and sustainable world.
  • They are supported by an experienced network of universities, companies, public institutions, and NGOs.
  • Activities include PhD projects, various internships, and training courses.

Research objectives

  • Operationalising the concept of telecouplings for solving sustainability challenges for land use and identifying actors and processes that impact land use over long distances.
  • Understanding what makes land-use systems sustainable in an increasingly interconnected world and how to get there.
  • Assessing the social, economic, and environmental impacts of sudden and unexpected changes in land use.
  • Identifying general conditions for sustainability while at the same time capturing specific local conditions.
  • Finding solutions to increase the efficiency of land use in a sustainable way, for example through strategic governance of international trade.

Expected Results

  • Successful training of fifteen young researchers and establishment of a strong network in the field of land use and sustainability.
  • Discussion forum for research, business, government and civil society groups to bring together expertise on sustainable land use in a globalized world.
  • Contribution to the development of Land System Science.
  • Vivid case studies on land-use systems in the Global South and Europe and their interrelation.
  • Expertise on how to implement and promote sustainable land use and transfer scientific results to business, policy, and practice.

“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.”

Jonas Ø. Nielsen