The planet looks very different today than it did ten thousand years ago when humans first started changing the ecosystem by farming; it even looks different from one hundred years ago or fifty years ago. Humans have developed the land like never before, which has had a huge impact on climate and biodiversity.
Land System Change
Land system change is a key metric in the nine planetary boundaries model. Land system change refers to the way humans have adapted the land for agriculture, urbanisation, and developments over the centuries. The changes impact local and global systems and habitats.
The planet's natural forests, wetlands, and grasslands have been adapted to accommodate human habitats like cities and urban areas; they have also been adapted to support the human population with food and other resources. Land use changes must be closely monitored.
Local Effects of Land Use Change
At a local level, land use changes support the human population with houses, infrastructure, and developments that meet the needs of local communities. Local grasslands, wetlands, and forests are developed or modified to meet the needs of people, but there are consequences.
The loss of local habitats and ecosystems due to urban and agricultural expansion has an impact on human health, as well as animal and plant life. Biodiversity, including water systems and local plant life, underpins human health, and changes can have far-reaching effects.
Global Effects of Land Change
It is unclear how much of the planet has been developed for human habitation and resources; estimates vary. However, it is clear that well-over one-quarter of the land has been changed, including rainforests and rivers. These changes can have a profound impact on natural systems.
Reducing the rainforests and creating agricultural land increases CO2 in the atmosphere by curbing absorption and releasing more carbon at the same time. Changing river flows also impact natural habitats affecting wildlife and human health in local areas and on a global scale.
The Planetary Boundary
Land system change is a key metric in the planetary boundary model because it has such far-reaching impacts. Land use changes occur at a local level and are designed to meet the needs of local communities, but these changes influence global systems and climate change.
When measuring the impact of land system change as a planetary boundary, it is necessary to consider the quantity of land being developed along with its function, spatial distribution, and natural resources like forests. Land is too often developed for short-term gains to local areas.
In many parts of the world, the damage has been done already. Habitats have been destroyed for towns and cities, river flows have been redirected, and forests have been cleared for agriculture. These changes have had a profound impact and contribution to climate change.
It’s clear that future land use should be developed with sustainability in mind, but current land use must also be considered. Reforestation, rewilding, and local sustainability efforts can be employed to support local ecosystems and biodiversity and to control this planetary boundary.
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.