Global land use changes are four times greater than previously estimated

Winkler, Karina; Fuchs, Richard; Rounsevell, Mark; Herold, Martin


Quantifying the dynamics of land use change is critical in tackling global societal challenges such as food security, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Here we analyse the dynamics of global land use change at an unprecedented spatial resolution by combining multiple open data streams (remote sensing, reconstructions and statistics) to create the HIstoric Land Dynamics Assessment + (HILDA +). We estimate that land use change has affected almost a third (32%) of the global land area in just six decades (1960-2019) and, thus, is around four times greater in extent than previously estimated from long-term land change assessments. We also identify geographically diverging land use change processes, with afforestation and cropland abandonment in the Global North and deforestation and agricultural expansion in the South. Here, we show that observed phases of accelerating (~1960–2005) and decelerating (2006–2019) land use change can be explained by the effects of global trade on agricultural production.