copy the linklink copied!Executive Summary

Land use is central to many of the environmental and socio-economic issues facing society. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural and land-use sectors account for 23% of anthropogenic emissions, and the loss and degradation of terrestrial ecosystems threatens 25% of animal and plant species with extinction. With global population projected to grow to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, food production will need to increase significantly. Additionally, global action on climate change will likely include substantial increases in energy production from biomass – further increasing the pressures on global land-use systems. Given the inter-connected nature of these biodiversity, climate, land and food-related challenges, co-ordination and coherence between different government policies affecting the land-use nexus is crucial.

This report examines on-going challenges for aligning land-use policy with biodiversity, climate and food objectives and the opportunities to enhance the sustainability of land-use systems. The report looks at six countries with relatively large agricultural and forestry sectors and associated greenhouse gas emissions, many of which also host globally important biodiversity. These countries are Brazil, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico and New Zealand. The report first highlights some key data relevant to this nexus. It then examines opportunities and challenges in three areas: coherence across relevant national strategies and plans, institutional co-ordination, and policy instruments relevant to the land-use nexus.

copy the linklink copied!Key Findings

Coherence across relevant national strategies and plans

Land use is considered separately in national plans such as those on development, climate, biodiversity, and agriculture across all case study countries. The prominence of land-use issues covered in different national strategies relevant to this nexus, and the degree of coherence between the strategies, varies substantially across countries. Overall, few of the national strategies and plans examined are specific enough to facilitate coherent action on this nexus by the various Ministries (and other stakeholders) involved. Moreover, although misalignments across national strategies exist, few national strategies explicitly acknowledge this.


  • Prepare national strategies and plans in a consultative and co-ordinated manner, with engagement from all the relevant Ministries and other key stakeholders. This is essential to identify potential synergies and misalignments in the overarching objectives. A good practice example is the National Planning Framework for Ireland, the creation of which included a cross-departmental steering group and a national consultation process.

  • Ensure strategies and action plans have targets that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART). More specific and measurable targets, in particular, will improve the ability to assess the coherence between them. Further, developing indicators to monitor progress towards the targets would enhance transparency and accountability.

  • Identify, assess and consider how to address any transboundary impacts associated with national strategies relevant to the land-use nexus (e.g. French plan to eliminate deforestation from supply chains).

Institutional co-ordination and coherence

Both weak institutional co-ordination and overly complex institutional arrangements contribute to policy misalignments. Relevant decision-making power in the land-use, nexus is split between different institutions of national governments, sub-national governments, and private actors, including those who produce, trade or retail nexus-relevant products in multiple countries. This split complicates the implementation of policies through poor horizontal and vertical co-ordination and differing institutional priorities and capacities. Several of the case study countries are working to improve co-ordination of relevant policies in the land-use nexus, in part by intensifying co-ordination of national and sub-national ministries.


  • Strengthen institutional co-ordination between different ministries responsible for land-use issues related to climate, biodiversity, food, both horizontally (at national level) and vertically (between different levels of government). Leadership from the top (i.e. the office of the President, Prime Minister or cabinet) is crucial in developing consistent and co-ordinated policies for sustainable land use. National governments should clearly define the roles and mandates of different institutions as they relate to land use.

  • Improve policy co-ordination mechanisms. Setting up a cross-cutting body, for example in response to the Sustainable Development Goals, long-term low-emission development strategies, or institutionalising co-ordination processes such as via inter-ministerial committees can help improve coherence (e.g. as between the French ministries of agriculture and food, and ministry for an ecological and solidarity transition).

Policy instruments relevant to the land-use nexus

The range of policy instruments utilised in the land-use nexus is broad and their interactions with each other and wider governance systems are multifaceted. Despite this variety, there are common themes. Firstly, the effective implementation of policy instruments for sustainable land use requires clearly defined and enforced land tenure. Secondly, across the case study countries, the negative externalities associated with certain types of land use remain largely unpriced or under-priced – meaning the benefits provided by ecosystems to society, except food production, are generally not reflected in land-use policy.

In contrast, government support for agricultural production is significant (with the exception of New Zealand). This support includes subsidies that can incentivise unsustainable practices and the expansion of agriculture. Thirdly, quantitative, national-level targets or policies for reducing land-use impacts associated with both food loss and waste and international trade in agricultural and forestry products are lacking (with the exception of France).


  • Support and intensify land reform efforts (most notably in Brazil and Indonesia) to ensure security of tenure, especially for indigenous and other vulnerable communities, and sustainable, inclusive land use.

  • Integrate spatial data into land-use decisions better (e.g. Indonesia’s One Map). This aids the design and implementation of the broad mix of policy instruments required to manage land-use systems (e.g. protected areas, environmental impact assessments and spatial planning).

  • Apply economic instruments, such as taxes and fees and charges, more broadly to price environmentally damaging practices. Economic instruments can enhance the effectiveness of existing regulatory approaches, by providing incentives to stakeholders to invest in more sustainable practices (e.g. pesticide taxes in Mexico and France).

  • Reassess the balance of support between the relevant ecosystem services from land (e.g. food, carbon, biodiversity, water). A good first step is the reform of potentially market-distorting and environmentally harmful agricultural support, which New Zealand has implemented.

  • Monitor and enforce regulations in a consistent and regular manner. Land-use policies can otherwise cease to function effectively and previous environmental gains can be reversed.

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