22 November 2019

Interview: In the field of land use management, systems are the starting point

Options Winter 2019/20: Q&A with former IIASA Science Advisory Committee member Eric Lambin, who has been honored with the 2019 Blue Planet Prize, which is widely considered as the Nobel Prize for science that contributes to solving global environmental problems.

Eric Lambin, former IIASA Science Advisory Committee member

Eric Lambin, former IIASA Science Advisory Committee member

Q As a young doctoral student in sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-1980s, what did you learn that helped your later career?

A Firstly, the importance of having your feet on the ground. I was working with satellite data, linking what you see on the ground and what people say about their land use, with what you see on the satellite images. This approach remains for all my work. Also, sub-Saharan Africa has many different ethnic groups, different landscapes, and patterns of land use. Trying to embrace this variability was quite important and influenced my systems thinking.

Q Do governments and regulators understand the forces driving global land-cover change?

A There are many simplifications that influence policymakers. One is that most factors driving land use change occur at the national level. With economic globalization, however, there are a number of global factors influencing land use in a given place. There is the trade in key commodities, the flows of capital being invested in land, population movements, and access
to information and ideas that influence the way people manage their land. Understanding these factors is crucial and underestimated by many policymakers.

Q What needs to change in terms of public and private regulation to achieve sustainable land use?

A We increasingly recognize the importance of hybrid governance of land. It has to be multi-level and multi-actor. Most of the solutions to promote more sustainable land use are known and already implemented successfully in some localities. The challenge is how to upscale these existing solutions. That is my main focus these days and I have found that it only occurs where there is some sort of alignment of objectives by private, public, and civil society actors.

Q How does systems analysis contribute to understanding the causes and impacts of land use changes?

A In the field of land use change, systems are the starting point. These complex, coupled systems with multiple feedback loops and multi-level organizations we are studying, necessitates taking a systems perspective when you embark on research of any land use system, it cannot be something you discover along the way.

Q How do you see the role of IIASA in an international approach to land management?

A IIASA is a pioneer in global systems models. On land use specifically, it has done an excellent job in coupling multiple models of social and natural systems and I think it should continue to play that role. The institute is also uniquely positioned with scientists from many parts of the world and has a connection with policymakers coupled with the ability to communicate its findings on global change research in a clear way. This is crucial.

By Kerry Skyring

Print this page

Last edited: 21 November 2019

Options Winter 2019/20

Read the current issue

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313