Telecoupling of land use systems

Globalized markets, decisions by distant governments, and global agenda setting (e.g. in light of global change) influence local land use decisions to an ever increasing degree. Land System Science has taken up the challenge to both enhance our understanding of the interaction of  coupled human-environmental system in a telecoupled world as well as providing new frameworks and concepts to approach it in terms of enhancing evidence based decision and policy making.  

For example, it has been shown that the recent reforestation in Vietnam is to a large share based on displacement of land use through import of wood products from other countries (of which 50% was illegal logging) (Meyfroidt and Lambin, 2009). On a global level 52% of the reforestation (2003 – 2007) of seven countries that have recently undergone forest transition is based on such displacement effects (Meyfroidt et al., 2010). Economic globalisation therefore facilitates forest transition in one country through displacement effects and leads to an export of negative externalities (frequently to countries with weak land governance systems). The second example of forest exports and imports of China in 2010 (Figure 3) illustrates the degree to which land is now a globalized good. Between 1997-2010 China exported forest products to over 160 countries and imported forest products from over 170 countries (Liu, 2014). Such empirical evidence is crucial to enhance respective global policies e.g. related to global deforestation. 

There have recently been different attempts to quantify these displacement effects of resource use, and land use specifically based on trade and consumption data (e.g. (Qiang et al., 2013; Weinzettel et al., 2013; Yu et al., 2013)). While the results are partly contradictory, they all show the high degree to which land and the resulting respective externalities have been globalised. These results motivate the clear need for further methodological advances in this field (Kastner et al., 2014) so that the land system science community can provide critical information and tools to support global policy decision-making. 

Land system science has reacted to the conceptual challenge of these increased interactions of distant places and has already proposed different conceptual frameworks to address the challenges (e.g. (Seto et al., 2012b; Liu et al., 2013). Liu et al (2013) discussed an integrated concept of telecoupling that encompasses both socioeconomic and environmental interactions among coupled human environmental system over wide distances. Their concept centres on differentiating between sending, receiving and spill over systems, the flow between these systems, and the agents, causes and effects within these systems. This move from place based to process based conceptualisation offers much potential to enhance the system understanding of a telecoupled world and contributes to more effective policies and action towards sustainable development.