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Land Use

Land use will play a critical role in enabling Europe to achieve its net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal. Land is unique in its ability to act both as a source and a sink for emissions. Land use can make a two-fold contribution to the climate challenge: its main emitting activities, agriculture and forestry, must significantly reduce their emissions  and we must maximise the ability of the land to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. Our vision is of a land use sector that serves this double function within Europe and globally through the production and consumption of sustainable and healthy food, the appropriate use of wood, and the restoration of vital ecosystems. And central to this vision is a land-use sector that supports people and communities, and a transition to a sustainable land-use sector that is socially just and is centred on the local communities that are often its best stewards.


Key challenges

  • Globally and within Europe, emissions from agriculture and other land uses contribute about 23% of total greenhouse gas emissions. These are likely to continue to rise as agriculture becomes more industrialised, more forests are cleared, and global diets shift towards increased meat consumption and processed food.
  • While land is unlike most other sectors in that it has the potential of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere (known as “negative” emissions), this sink for greenhouse gas emissions is limited and difficult to manage: land can become a major climate threat through bad management and maladaptation to the impacts of climate change. In addition, policies that allow industry and other sectors to use these negative emissions to offset emissions from their sectors are beset by accounting, environmental and other risks – and could do more harm than good if not properly managed.
  • Land use emissions are particularly susceptible to “leakage”: Europe’s efforts to reduce its land use emissions might displace activities outside of Europe, perhaps with an even worse climate outcome.
  • Land use is a complex and interconnected sector in which a vast range of social, cultural and economic issues coalesce and whose activities are, at the same time, associated with deep cultural sensitivities.
  • Shifting to bioenergy, produced from natural materials (known as “biomass”), is often seen as a convenient source of renewable energy for heating homes and generating power or to fuel cars. However, in practice bioenergy production releases emissions which are comparative to, and in some cases worse than, burning fossil fuels, when measured against the short amount of time left to act on climate change. On a large scale, burning nature to save the climate is unacceptable.


The ECF’s Land Use programme aims to ensure that the sector contributes to Europe’s climate goals by promoting Europe’s efforts to reduce the drivers of GHG-emitting activities on land, protect and enhance natural sinks, and lead on tackling land use emissions globally.

Transformational change in the land use sector that can support European climate goals in line with the Paris Agreement requires an ambitious and multi-pronged approach. A significant reduction in emissions can only be achieved by reducing European demand for the most GHG-intensive food types, especially meat and dairy, by tackling food waste and by reforming the food production system. In order to protect Europe’s carbon sinks, we need to halt deforestation, stop the unsustainable exploitation of forests, and end the widespread use of wood in the energy sector. In addition, European leadership needs to address Europe’s role in driving global deforestation along supply chains, and encourage its efforts to protect vital ecosystems globally through levers in finance, diplomacy, and development cooperation.

How we work

Through our activities, we aim to reframe the narrative around land use emissions to turn the sector from one of defensiveness and hopelessness into one of ambition. Engaging with a broad range of actors, from farmers and unions to food producers and consumers, we want to demonstrate that agriculture and nature protection can form a central part of the solution to climate change.

In order to achieve this, we believe that we must approach land use from multiple angles beyond the climate perspective to include biodiversity protection, public health and diets, pollution, animal welfare, ecosystem services, and a just transition, among others. By forming the broadest possible coalition that can reinvent Europe’s goals for food and nature, we aim to create the political space necessary for far-reaching policy change in the land use sector that does not only tackle land use emissions but also fosters the public goods that society values in land.


Thomas Legge

Director, Land Use Programme

Mauro Anastasio

Strategic Communications Lead, Land Use

Tanguy Giraud

Associate, Land Use Programme

Sara Lickel

Senior Associate, International Climate Accountability Programme

Beatriz Martinez Alvarez

Manager, Land Use Programme

Trees Robijns

Manager, Land Use Programme