Finding pathways to national-scale land-sector sustainability (2017)

Gao, L., Bryan, B.A., 2017. Finding pathways to national-scale land-sector sustainability. Nature 544(7649) 217–222.


The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets under Agenda 2030 of the United Nations map a coherent global sustainability ambition at a level of detail general enough to garner consensus amongst nations. However, achieving the global agenda will depend heavily on successful national-scale implementation, which requires the development of effective science-driven targets tailored to specific national contexts and supported by strong national governance. Here we assess the feasibility of achieving multiple SDG targets at the national scale for the Australian land-sector. We scaled targets to three levels of ambition and two timeframes, then quantitatively explored the option space for target achievement under 648 plausible future environmental, socio-economic, technological and policy pathways using the Land-Use Trade-Offs (LUTO) integrated land systems model. We show that target achievement is very sensitive to global efforts to abate emissions, domestic land-use policy, productivity growth rate, and land-use change adoption behaviour and capacity constraints. Weaker target-setting ambition resulted in higher achievement but poorer sustainability outcomes. Accelerating land-use dynamics after 2030 changed the targets achieved by 2050, warranting a longer-term view and greater flexibility in sustainability implementation. Simultaneous achievement of multiple targets is rare owing to the complexity of sustainability target implementation and the pervasive trade-offs in resource-constrained land systems. Given that hard choices are needed, the land-sector must first address the essential food/fibre production, biodiversity and land degradation components of sustainability via specific policy pathways. It may also contribute to emissions abatement, water and energy targets by capitalizing on co-benefits. However, achieving targets relevant to the land-sector will also require substantial contributions from other sectors such as clean energy, food systems and water resource management. Nations require globally coordinated, national-scale, comprehensive, integrated, multi-sectoral analyses to support national target-setting that prioritizes efficient and effective sustainability interventions across societies, economies and environments.

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