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Tele-connecting local consumption to global land use

Highlights

  • Connects local consumption to global land use through tracking global supply chains.
  • Assesses both domestic and foreign land displacement around the world.
  • Rich countries appropriate more than 50% of land for non-food items.
  • Global land use linked to differences in income, and consumption patterns and lifestyles.

Globalization increases the interconnectedness of people and places around the world. In a connected world, goods and services consumed in one country are often produced in other countries and exchanged via international trade. Thus, local consumption is increasingly met by global supply chains oftentimes involving large geographical distances and leading to global environmental change.

In this study, the authors connect local consumption to global land use through tracking global commodity and value chains via international trade flows. Using a global multiregional input–output model with sectoral detail allows for the accounting of land use attributed to “unusual” sectors – from a land use perspective – including services, machinery and equipment, and construction.

The results show how developed countries consume a large amount of goods and services from both domestic and international markets, and thus impose pressure not only on their domestic land resources, but also displace land in other countries, thus displacing other uses.

  • For example, 33% of total U.S. land use for consumption purposes is displaced from other countries. This ratio becomes much larger for the EU (more than 50%) and Japan (92%).
  • The analysis shows that 47% of Brazilian and 88% of Argentinean cropland is used for consumption purposes outside of their territories, mainly in EU countries and China.
  • In addition, consumers in rich countries tend to displace land by consuming non-agricultural products, such as services, clothing and household appliances, which account for more than 50% of their total land displacement.
  • By contrast, for developing economies, such as African countries, the share of land use for non-agricultural products is much lower, with an average of 7%.

The emerging economies and population giants, China and India, are likely to further increase their appetite for land from other countries, such as Africa, Russia and Latin America, to satisfy their own land needs driven by their fast economic growth and the needs and lifestyles of their growing populations.

Global Environmental Change Volume 23, Issue 5, October 2013, Pages 1178-1186