The world is at a crossroads, as humanity tries to mitigate climate change and halt biodiversity loss, while still securing a supply of food for everyone. A recent study in Nature Communications shows that global demands for commodities, especially in connection with agricultural development, are the main drivers of land use change in the global south.

A land use change is defined as a permanent or long-term conversion in the type of cover of an area of land, for instance from forest to urban use, agricultural crops or savanna, or vice versa. The researchers used modern satellite technology, now able to detect changes like deforestation in near real time, to evaluate global trends.

They suggest global land use changes may be happening at a much higher rate than previously thought. The authors found that 17% of the Earth’s land surface has undergone change at least once since 1960, which works out to an area the size of…

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