People have been talking about resource use for years – we use too much, we don’t distribute it equitably, things are getting more expensive, running out, etc etc etc.
The thing that puzzles me is that these conversations tend to be about materials – in general, or specific materials (oil, metals, rare earths etc) – and most of the time a key natural resource is ignored – land.
It’s blindingly obvious that land is a limited resource – as Mark Twain said “Buy Land, they’re not making it anymore”. Across the world the pressure on land is increasing – from increasing demand for food (particularly meat & dairy), from the increasing use of biofuel and biomass as an energy source, and from growing urbanisation.
Land is obviously crucial to biodiversity – but it is also intimately linked to people’s rights, history and incomes. The growing demand for land – combined with financial speculation – is creating a massive increase in land disputes, as companies and governments try to gain control of land.
This is leading to deaths and imprisonments of local people, for instance 17 people were killed in June 2012 during a police-led eviction of peasant farmers in Paraguay. This was followed by the arrest of a local person who was working with Friends of the Earth, though he was later released following international pressure (see Friends of the Earth International news story)
And yet, land just doesn’t seem to be front of mind when many people talk about resource use. For example, the UK Environment Ministry DEFRA has just launched a consultation on “Guidance for Business on Key Environmental Performance Indicators“. As you might expect, this includes measuring climate emissions, waste, material use, even water – but what about land?
Well, land use change gets a mention in the section on biodiversity, but not beyond this, in spite of the fact that scale of land use is so important as companies make decisions on bio-based materials and feedstocks – or even what to food to serve. Yet measuring impacts on biodiversity is much more difficult than measuring scale of land use.
There is a straightforward way to measure and manage the amount of land required by a company, an economy, or to produce an individual product – it’s called Land Footprint. This is a really straightforward measurement of the real area of land required, in hectares. It doesn’t tell you everything, but it does work very well as a top-level metric, which facilitates further analysis (e.g. looking at where the land is, why we are using that land etc). If you want to know the land footprint of EU countries, see our report on “Europe’s land import dependency”.
For more about land footprint, see this talk I gave to a conference organised by the European Commission on soil sealing in May 2012.
We’ll be asking DEFRA – and indeed the European Commission – to make sure that future policies on environmental reporting & resource use do include land. We’d welcome the same message coming from other people and organisations too!!