The impact of interventions in the global land and agri‐food sectors on Nature’s Contributions to People and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Pamela McElwee* (Corresponding Author), Katherine Calvin, Donovan Campbell, Francesco Cherubini, Giacomo Grassi, Vladimir Korotkov, Anh Le Hoang, Shuaib Lwasa, Johnson Nkem, Ephraim Nkonya, Nobuko Saigusa, Jean-Francois Soussana, Miguel Angel Taboada, Frances Manning, Dorothy Nampanzira, Pete Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Interlocked challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation require transformative interventions in the land management and food production sectors to reduce carbon emissions, strengthen adaptive capacity, and increase food security. However, deciding which interventions to pursue and understanding their relative co-benefits with and trade-offs against different social and environmental goals has been difficult without comparisons across a range of possible actions. This study examined 40 different options, implemented through land management, value chains, or risk management, for their relative impacts across 18 Nature's Contributions to People (NCP) and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We find that a relatively small number of interventions show positive synergies with both SDGs and NCPs with no significant adverse trade-offs; these include improved cropland management, improved grazing land management, improved livestock management, agroforestry, integrated water management, increased soil organic carbon content, reduced soil erosion, salinization and compaction, fire management, reduced landslides and hazards, reduced pollution, reduced post-harvest losses, improved energy use in food systems, and disaster risk management. Several interventions show potentially significant negative impacts on both SDGs and NCPs; these include bioenergy and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), afforestation, and some risk sharing measures, like commercial crop insurance. Our results demonstrate that a better understanding of co-benefits and trade-offs of different policy approaches can help decisionmakers choose the more effective, or at the very minimum, more benign interventions for implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4691-4721
Number of pages31
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number9
Early online date7 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

Work for this paper was undertaken as part of the IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, SLM, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, and we thank the support provided by the Technical Support Units for Working Groups I, II, and III. Particular thanks are due to Renee van Diemen of WGIII. Additional funding and support for McElwee's involvement in the IPCC process was provided by Dean Robert Goodman of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University. Cherubini acknowledges the support of the Norwegian Research Council through the projects BIOPATH and MITISRESS. Nkonya was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems. The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

Research Funding
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University
Norwegian Research Council
CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems


  • adaption
  • ecosystem services
  • food security
  • land degradation
  • mitigation
  • Nature's Contribution to People
  • Sustainable development
  • sustainable land management
  • trade-offs


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