Land use and sustainability trajectories

Published in Global Environmental Change. Underpins Sections 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.7 and analysis of land use trade-offs in the Australian National Outlook 2015 report.

Land-use and sustainability under intersecting global change and domestic policy scenarios: trajectories for Australia to 2050

Journal paper, published in Global Environmental Change.

Understanding potential future influence of environmental, economic, and social drivers on land-use and sustainability is critical for guiding strategic decisions that can help nations adapt to change, anticipate opportunities, and cope with surprises. Quantitative scenario analysis has proven a useful tool to support the integrated analysis of complex social-ecological systems under future uncertainty. 

Using the Land-Use Trade-Offs (LUTO) model, we undertook a comprehensive, detailed, integrated, and quantitative scenario analysis of land-use and sustainability for Australia's agricultural land to 2050, under intersecting global change and domestic policies, and considering key uncertainties. We assessed land use competition between multiple land uses and assessed sustainability of economic returns and multiple ecosystem services at high spatial and temporal resolution. 

We found substantial potential for land use transition from agriculture to carbon plantings, environmental plantings, and biofuels cropping under certain scenarios, with impacts on the sustainability of economic returns and ecosystem services including food/fibre production, emissions abatement, water resource use, biodiversity services, and energy production. However, the type and magnitude of land-use responses and their impacts, in addition to where and when they might occur, were highly dependent on scenario parameters including global outlook and the strength of the global emissions abatement effort, domestic land-use policy settings, and assumptions about land-use change adoption behaviour, productivity growth, and capacity constraints. 

With strong global abatement incentives complemented by biodiversity-focussed land-use policy, land-use responses can increase and diversify economic returns to land and produce a wider range of ecosystem services such as emissions abatement, biodiversity, and energy, without substantial impacts on agricultural production. However, better governance is needed for managing water resource impacts. 

The results have wide-ranging implications for land-use and sustainability policy and governance at global and domestic scales for influencing the type, magnitude, location, and timing of change. The results can also inform strategic thinking and decision-making about land-use and sustainability in Australia and the comprehensive and freely available 16 GB data pack provides a unique resource for further research. Similarly nuanced transformational change is also likely elsewhere. Our template for comprehensive, integrated, quantitative, and high resolution scenario analysis can support other nations in strategic thinking and decision-making in response to future uncertainty.


Brett A. Bryan, Martin Nolan, Lisa McKellar, Jeffery D. Connor, David Newth, Tom Harwood, Darran King, Javier Navarro, Yiyong Cai, Lei Gao, Mike Grundy, Paul Graham,  Andreas Ernst Simon Dunstall, Florian Stock, Thomas Brinsmead, Ian Harman, Nicky J. Grigg, Michael Battaglia, Brian Keating, Alex Wonhas, Steve Hatfield-Dodds


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