Book cover: Transitioning to Sustainable Life on Land
Open Access Edited Book

Transitioning to Sustainable Life on Land

Published: November 2021
Pages: 478
ISBN 978-3-03897-878-7 (hardback); ISBN 978-3-03897-879-4 (PDF)
This book is part of the book series: Transitioning to Sustainability
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Sustainable Life on Land, the fifteenth UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 15), calls for the protection, restoration and promotion of the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. Among others, it requires societies to sustainably manage forests, halt and reverse land degradation, combat desertification, and halt biodiversity loss. Despite the fact that protection of terrestrial ecosystems is on the rise worldwide and forest loss has slowed, the recent IPBES report concluded that “nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history”. Consequently, the United Nations General Assembly recently declared 2021–2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. There is no doubt that the current global responses are far from sufficient and significant transformative changes of societies are needed to restore and protect nature and ecosystems.

Transitioning to Sustainable Life on Land presents reviews, original research, and practical experiences from different disciplines with a focus on:

  1. theoretical and empirical reflection about the necessary transformation of values, institutions, markets, firms and policies,
  2. reviews and research on protection, restoration and sustainable use of diverse terrestrial ecosystems,
  3. analyses and reporting of encouraging local, regional, national, and global initiatives.

Transitioning to Sustainable Life on Land is part of MDPI's new Open Access book series Transitioning to SustainabilityWith this series, MDPI pursues environmentally and socially relevant research which contributes to efforts toward a sustainable world. Transitioning to Sustainability aims to add to the conversation about regional and global sustainable development according to the 17 SDGs. The book series is intended to reach beyond disciplinary, even academic boundaries.


SDG 15; biodiversity; economics and governance; valuation and ethics; justice and sufficiency; zero net loss; cultivated landscapes; ecosystem restoration; conservation agriculture; agroforestry; peatland; land consolidation; land tenure; land ownership


  • Transitioning to Sustainable Life on Land—Introduction to SDG 15 and the Volume

    This editorial provides a brief introduction to SDG 15, also relating to other SDGs, and reflects mainly on the contributions to the volume "Transitioning to Sustainable Life on Land".

  • Biodiversity and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

    This chapter critically assesses each of the targets for biodiversity conservation listed as part of Sustainable Goal 15 (SDG 15) of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The targets include ensuring forest conservation and restoration, combatting desertification and restoring degraded land and soil, conserving mountain ecosystems and reducing the degradation of natural habitats. In addition, they include urgent action to prevent poaching and trafficking in protected flora and fauna, the adoption of measures to adequately address the impact of invasive alien species and the need to take account of biodiversity conservation in local development processes and poverty reduction. It is found that the targets for SDG 15 are not well integrated with those for the other sustainable development goals, are vague and fail to pay attention to economic factors such as opportunity costs as well as economic valuation of biodiversity. India’s approach for implementing SDG 15 illustrates the limitations of the UN’s specification of SDG 15.

  • Integrating Environmental Value Systems: A Proposal for Synthesis

    A philosophical analysis of different typologies of values, which are used for environmental decision making, can contribute to an informed choice of a comprehensive value system. This chapter discusses classificatory maps of values and patterns of reasoning in environmental affairs. The Total Economic Value, the Ecosystem Service approach and value systems being conceived in environmental ethics will be analysed and their strengths and weaknesses will be presented. It is argued that a comprehensive and integrated synthesis of existing approaches is possible, but that even such synthesis will not simplify decision making. Nevertheless, such a synthesis is significant for the implementation of sustainability goals and for science-based policy advice.

  • Can Justice Respect Needs and Nature? The Idea of a Nature-Respecting Sufficiency

    In light of current unsustainability trends, achieving major sustainability goals, such as the protection of life on land and below water (SDG 14 and 15), requires transformative change. This paper focuses on transformative change of values and, for this, on the idea of a nature-respecting sufficiency. Sustainability discussions are motivated by two important sufficiency considerations: a focus on basic needs and on reaching and securing a social minimum for all; and a social maximum via a focus on limits to production and consumption. This intuitive appeal derives from the idea of minimum threshold as a central requirement of justice along with the idea of justice demanding respect for environmental limits. This paper proposes a nature-respecting, capabilitarian conception of sufficiency. Its starting point is the dignity of all living beings and their central capabilities. Rather than being indifferent about distribution in the space above a sufficiency threshold, this conception requires resource use above the threshold to be justified. For both the agency and patiency aspects of moral subjects, the positional and quasi-positional nature of central capabilities plays an important role, orienting intrinsic and instrumental reasons towards equal distribution. Implications of nature-respecting sufficiency are discussed in relation to (sustainable) economy and the technological and social innovations highlighted by the 2019 Global Biodiversity Assessment.

  • Germany’s Agriculture and UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 15

    For 8000 years, until around 1950, agriculture in Central Europe respected and even enhanced biodiversity, although sometimes at the expense of soil fertility. During the last 50 to 60 years, the trend veered dramatically due to advancements in technology. Studies show that hundreds of common plant species, flourishing in the countryside for millennia, are now reduced to little more than five percent of their former population size. The situation is similar with birds, insects and other animals. Agriculture is directly or indirectly responsible for two thirds of the plants included in “Red Data Books” of endangered species. In addition, harm is done to groundwater due to nitrate leakage in regions with excessive livestock rearing. Even appreciating the contribution of modern agriculture to food security, the overall situation is incompatible with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 15. Eighteen percent of Germany’s agricultural area is devoted to crops used to produce electric power or fuel for motor vehicles, or which are exported in excess of agricultural imports. Energy crops perform poorly in the face of the large area required. Exports neither ensure food security in poor countries nor are necessary for Germany’s balance of trade. The nation could do well without both types of products and thereby gain three million hectares available for low-input and species-rich agriculture and livestock rearing. With efficient spatial planning, the costs of such reorientation would amount to less than one per mil of Germany’s gross national product and could easily be afforded by reorienting funds already existing but used inefficiently. From an economic point of view, the situation is a clear example of the poor capacity of modern societies to care for public goods.

  • Ecosystem Restoration and Agriculture — Putting Strong Sustainability into Practice

    Modern and high-yield oriented agriculture today has to be considered as one of the most important causes of global environmental problems. Besides ecosystem degradation and the loss of ecosystem services, non-sustainable agriculture can also have a significant, negative socio-economic impact. Against this background, new approaches in agriculture have to be developed to meet the need for ecological sustainability taking also social and economic capital into account. Ecosystem restoration could be one option to cope with the worldwide loss of provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services. All approaches in agriculture that meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular SDG 15, should be considered as potential solutions to the global environmental crisis. In this chapter, agroforestry systems and social agriculture are discussed as an approach for sustainable land use and ecosystem restoration. Both approaches have a high potential to meet sustainability objectives based on the triple-bottom line paradigm of sustainability. The focus will be put on Central Europe and, in particular, the mountain areas of the European Alps. The restoration of degraded land by agroforestry systems and the various environmental and social activities of ecosocial agriculture can meet several objectives of sustainable land use, particularly the restoration of natural as well as social and economic capital, the promotion of biodiversity and agrobiodiversity, and the development of multifunctional cultural landscapes. Additionally, it can prevent or reverse land abandonment.

  • Forest Landscape Restoration and Sustainable Biomass Utilization in Central Asia

    Forest landscape restoration (FLR) has become an approach that addresses a wide range of landscapes beyond forests as woodlands, and includes restoration approaches like agroforestry. Under the Bonn Challenge, FLR has gained global attention in forest rich as well as forest poor countries, like the countries in Central Asia. Globally, countries have committed themselves to implement FLR on 350 million ha by 2030. FLR, as other restoration efforts, needs to yield income for the people, in particular for rural communities in poor countries. Central Asia is a region that offers abundant places to implement FLR and other restoration and produce biomass in settings that do not displace current land uses as food production. As examples, the following approaches are introduced: agroforestry, land use on saline land, and reed as biomass plant. Among the many possible agroforestry systems, tree wind breaks, in particular from poplars, mulberry, or paulownia, yield timber, but also silk fibers, without competing with other land uses. On saline lands, Kendir and licorice offer opportunities to yield fibers and medicinal raw materials. Reed, finally, yields huge biomass amounts across Central Asia, which is a potential feed stock for paper, paper board, OSB boards, and chemical inputs.

  • The Transition to Sustainable Life on Wetlands: How the Sustainable Use of Peatlands Appears on the Political Agenda

    In intact, living peatlands, peat accumulates due to high water tables. The drainage of peatlands, particularly for agriculture and forestry, leads to peat degradation and CO2 emissions. Even though peatlands cover only three percent of the Earth’s land surface, their carbon storage potential makes them crucial ecosystems for the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. In order to use peatlands as a global carbon sink, but also to create other ecosystem services, wet peatlands have to stay wet, and drained peatlands have to be rewetted and could be used wet as well. The sustainable use of peatlands is called paludiculture. We explain how paludiculture, as an alternative approach to the unsustainable use of drained peatlands, came to be on the agenda of global climate protection initiatives and how this concept also found its way on the agenda for European agricultural policy reforms. For this, we use John Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Approach and different theoretical refinements as an analytical frame.

  • Evolution of the Land Consolidation System in China

    Land consolidation is regarded as an effective approach to improving agricultural productivity and promoting rural sustainable development. The modern land consolidation system started in China in 1997 in response to the potential food security crisis. This research traced back the formation and evolution of the land consolidation system in the past 20 years to gain insight into the patterns of institutional change in China. This study distinguished three main stages, each of which has a distinctive driver mechanism: the exploring period (1997 to 2004), the developing period (2005 to 2012), and the comprehensive period (since 2013). Based on policy analysis, this research concluded that the goals of the Chinese land consolidation system changed from land quantity preservation to addressing multiple concerns including food security, sustainable development, rural vitalization, and environment protection. Though these aims have not been perfectly achieved, land consolidation projects have had some positive influence. This study illustrates the mechanisms, performance, and government logic of different land consolidation systems in the Chinese context and provides results useful for other developing countries with similar land issues.

  • Combating Pasture Degradation in Central Asia and the Caucasus — A Review of Approaches

    In Central Asia and the Caucasus region (CAC), pastures are the dominating use of land. There is also a great variation of livestock keeping systems, stationary and mobile livestock keeping as well as horizontal and vertical migration systems. Despite these differences, the region shares a common history of socialist influence. Degradation of pasture resources, measures to combat degradation and appropriate levels of land use are recurring themes in discussions about land use in the CAC region and are relevant for achieving SDG 15.3 globally. Crucial for sustainable rangeland management are governance regimes regulating access and use of pastures. Especially after 1990, alongside diverging economic and political developments, various rangeland governance approaches were implemented in the CAC countries. In this contribution, I review the governance approaches to combat pasture degradation applied in the CAC region and relate them to theoretical paradigms of rangeland governance, namely, private, state, common and open management regimes. The analysis shows that there is evidence for all theoretical paradigms, while their suitability depends on the ecological and social contexts in which they are applied. Thus, there is no “silver bullet” to prevent pasture overuse and degradation. A central concern for sustainable rangeland management is to enable mobility, which seems theoretically compatible with all governance paradigms. In many countries, the development of rangeland governance approaches shows trial and error processes involving paradigm shifts or refinements of existing approaches to improve fit with ecological conditions and local practices of the pastoral population.

  • Impacts of the Land Tenure System on Sustainable Land Use in Ethiopia

    On Earth, land is the most vital resource from which living things derive their essential necessities. There are many methods for managing and maintaining this vital resource in a sustainable manner, but it is more important to first understand the root cause of malfunctioning land management strategies. This chapter aims at understanding the underlying causes of socio-economic and policy-related factors affecting the sustainability of land tenure systems in Ethiopia. It also presents a review of historical and sociopolitical literature to evaluate the challenges with an insecure land tenure system, which lead to land degradation, soil erosion and low incomes. In most developing countries, systematic evaluation mechanisms of land tenure performance are very inadequate. In particular, Ethiopia has no systematic framework for assessing and measuring the state of its land tenure system. In this line, this study applies a systematic review to explore theoretical considerations and overviews on current estimates related to land tenure security in Ethiopia. Through an in-depth literature review and a qualitative analytical approach, the results identified a collection of good practices and indicators that can provide a framework for a systematic evaluation of sustainable land use in Ethiopia. The findings also showed performance gaps in land management, the application of enacted legislation and the allocation of land for agricultural investments. This study provides recommendations to federal and regional institutions with a mandate for land management, land holding and resource rights and land use on how to resolve these bottlenecks.

  • New Types of Land Ownership to Sustain Life on Land

    The SDG 15, sustainable Life on Land, has a strong relation to farming. In Europe and in Germany we experience a growth in community- and civil society supported organizations of farmland ownership. Those new types of organizations governing land ownership are to a large part not-for-profit organizations that answer to the ecological values of their supporters. In this contribution we show for Germany that this type of community-supported land ownership appears in numerous and diverse legal forms with a range of 1-68 partner farms each. Each individual legal form of governing such community-supported organization allows for different styles and formal arrangements of land stewardship, with the focus here on combating land degradation and reducing biodiversity loss. They are found in a full geographical spread across Germany although publically beneficial associations prevail in old Federal States for historic reasons. The empirical material is based on a German-wide scoping study conducted in 2020. With a spotlight on two case studies, we will exemplify the new opportunities for supporting the ecological transition of land use by means of community-supported land ownership.

  • Agricultural Policy for Biodiversity: Facilitators and Barriers for Transformation

    The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has integrated some environmental aspects into its instruments and measures. Since the 1990s, environmental measures have been introduced and iteratively adjusted with a new funding period every four to seven years. This chapter presents four stages of the policy cycle as an analytical framework in order to assess whether CAP decision makers have learned from experience to improve the performance of the CAP in preserving biodiversity. Following these four stages, we, first, present the evolution of the agriculture related environmental agenda in the CAP. Second, we give an overview of key CAP instruments as policy output, including Agri-Environmental Programs/Agri-Environmental and Climate Measures, Cross-Compliance, and Greening of Direct Payments. Third, we compile information on the implementation performance of these instruments to assess the social outcome and ecological impact of the CAP. Finally, we evaluate the learning potential of the CAP process and derive underlying causes. We conclude that CAP reforms have repeatedly failed to draw on the accumulated knowledge on agri-environmental instruments and give some recommendations for improved biodiversity conservation.

  • Strategic Engagement in Institutions of Organic Farming in Indonesia

    Indonesia was one of the then authoritarian states that spearheaded and thoroughly institutionalized the green revolution. The emergence of organic farming (OF), proposed as a strategy for environmental conservation in Indonesia, is embedded in this history. This article uses social network analysis (SNA) to investigate institutional aspects of OF in Indonesia, focusing on the dynamic interactions amongst the actors that drive its development. The Net-Map method was applied as a tool to explore the tensions, areas of cooperation, and potential spaces for resolution that are constructed by OF actors, with the active engagement of the actors themselves. Based on two indices of network centrality—betweenness centrality and degree of centrality—three distinct groups of actors emerged, characterized by different modes of interaction with government actors. Disengaged actors are not linked to any government actors in sustaining their movement; partially engaged actors strategically adapt to government OF regulations while maintaining their commitment to the foundational principles of the OF movement; fully engaged actors pursue OF wholly within the framework of government regulations. Our analysis suggests different notions of sustainability are enacted by these actors. In addition, the current OF institutions highlight the contradiction between centralized governance structures in the agricultural sector and the government’s stance that OF should prioritize the use of local resources and knowledge. However, spaces exist for negotiation between the civil society and government, which could lead to the formulation of more coherent OF policies that can accommodate a diversity of goals, strategies, and views on the sustainability of OF.

  • Biotechnology, Bioeconomy, and Sustainable Life on Land

    New developments in biotechnology have reduced the use of pesticides and increased yield per hectare for crops including canola, cotton, corn, and soybeans. These developments have often been accompanied by the adoption of reduced or zero-tillage systems and an increase in double-cropping, thereby reducing pressure on land and contributing to the protection of terrestrial ecosystems. They directly contribute to achieve SDG 15, but also to achieving SDG 2. This chapter presents a summary of these developments. It further includes a discussion of promising developments within the bioeconomy and their potential to promote sustainable life on land. These developments include major changes in food production, as well as innovations in the conversion of biological resources into high-value products other than biofuels. The discussion also addresses several potential obstacles, the most important of which consists of government regulations.

  • Barriers to Zero Tropical Deforestation and ‘Opening up’ Sustainable and Just Transitions

    The UN Sustainable Development Goals include ambitious targets for tackling deforestation and emphasise the roles of diverse actors and partnerships for transformative change. Initiatives for governing tropical forests take multiple forms, including ‘zero deforestation’ supply chain initiatives, carbon forestry, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), legislative frameworks that intend to cut off markets for illegally harvested timber, and emerging landscape and jurisdictional approaches. Drawing on insights from political ecology and sustainability transitions research, this chapter discusses the barriers to transitioning to ‘zero deforestation’ through consideration of: (1) the contested framing of the problem of deforestation, (2) how sustainable forest governance is translated and enacted across scales, and (3) who is represented in ‘the transition’. This reveals opportunities for sustainable and just transitions for forests. We argue that careful attention must be paid to the influences of power and politics surrounding forest governance and its social and ecological outcomes, and the need to challenge orthodoxies around economic growth that currently underpin policy responses.

Review Mode

Each chapter in this edited book has been reviewed by the editor/s, and a minimum of two external single-blind reviewers. The opinions expressed in the chapters do not reflect the view of the publisher.

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