Sustainable pathways towards climate and biodiversity goals in the UK: the importance of managing land-use synergies and trade-offs

Smith, Alison C.; Harrison, Paula A. ORCID:; Leach, Nicholas J.; Godfray, H. Charles J.; Hall, Jim W.; Jones, Sarah M.; Gall, Sarah S.; Obersteiner, Michael. 2023 Sustainable pathways towards climate and biodiversity goals in the UK: the importance of managing land-use synergies and trade-offs. Sustainability Science, 18 (1). 521-538.

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Agricultural and environmental policies are being fundamentally reviewed and redesigned in the UK following its exit from the European Union. The UK government and the Devolved Administrations recognise that current land use is not sustainable and that there is now an unprecedented opportunity to define a better land strategy that responds fully to the interconnected challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable development. This paper presents evidence from three pathways (current trends, sustainable medium ambition, and sustainable high ambition) to mid-century that were co-created with UK policymakers. The pathways were applied to a national integrated food and land-use model (the FABLE calculator) to explore potential synergies and trade-offs between achieving multiple sustainability targets under limited land availability and constraints to balance food supply and demand at national and global levels. Results show that under the Current Trends pathway all unprotected open natural land would be converted to urban, agriculture and afforested land, with the consequence that from 2030 onwards tree planting targets could not be met. In contrast, the two sustainable pathways illustrate how dietary change, agricultural productivity improvements and waste reduction can free up land for nature recovery and carbon sequestration. This enables a transition to a sustainable food and land-use system that provides a net carbon sink with up to 44% of land able to support biodiversity conservation. We highlight key trade-offs and synergies, which are important to consider for designing and implementing emerging national policies. These include the strong dependence of climate, food and biodiversity targets on dietary shifts, sustainable improvements in agricultural productivity, improved land-use design for protecting and restoring nature, and rapid reductions in food loss and waste.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Soils and Land Use (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 1862-4065
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: land use, agriculture, food, climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, policy
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 14 Jul 2023 15:20 +0 (UTC)

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