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Our Work

Land Systems

How we manage land systems shapes our energy and climate systems and determines our ability to meet the needs of a growing population.

Land can be a massive enabler or barrier in our efforts to transform energy systems and address climate change, depending on how we manage competing demands for this finite resource.

The latest on land systems

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Our Goal

Pursue the most effective uses of Earth’s limited land resources to mitigate climate change, enable energy system transformation, and support livelihoods worldwide.

Land is the only sector that is both a sink and source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Land systems remove carbon from the atmosphere through plant growth, which means that protecting and expanding this natural asset is important to counterbalancing greenhouse gas emissions and buying time for technology deployment and energy system transformation. Land systems also produce emissions through activities such as agriculture and forestry, which are responsible for roughly 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it critical to advance policies to reduce global land sector emissions to reach our climate goals.

Land systems also serve as the foundation for the expansive infrastructure that we must build to facilitate the clean energy transition. Sorting out how much infrastructure is needed, as well as where and how to locate it to minimize the impacts of energy sprawl is essential to gaining social support for infrastructure deployment. In this way, land-smart design and development can maximize local benefits of energy system expansion by considering both community values and ecosystem function. 

CATF combines analysis, policy advocacy, and communication to understand trade-offs and synergies among competing land uses and to advance policies and practices that best mitigate climate change while supporting livelihoods worldwide.

What we mean by land systems

The term “land systems” refers to the terrestrial component of the Earth system and includes:

  • human uses of land and their impacts on resource production (food, energy, and materials),
  • global cycles (carbon, water, nutrients), and
  • socio-economic and cultural values (land value, land rights, and community identity).

Our impact in land systems

The Problem

How we manage competing demands for land can facilitate energy system transformation and help mitigate climate change, but current approaches and resources don’t match the scale and complexity of the land systems challenge.

  • The dominant paradigm assumes there is enough land for everything and fails to acknowledge land constraints and existing land values.
  • Decisions are often posed as either/or choices, and there are few opportunities to reckon with trade-offs or realize synergies between land uses across geographies.
  • Most land allocation decisions are evaluated at small spatial scales, which limits our ability to design the most land-efficient infrastructure solutions or pursue ecosystem carbon management at landscape scales.
  • Analysis and decision-making tools often treat land systems as static and rarely account for the dynamic nature of landscapes under climate and population change.

Scope of Work

CATF’s Land Systems program is designed to:

  • Build an understanding of the coupled nature of land-energy-climate systems, and the need for a systems approach to technology, policy, and management.
  • Elevate the issue of increasing competition for land in the face of climate change, population and energy growth, and economic development to promote regional spatial planning.
  • Protect and enhance global ecosystem carbon sinks to avoid passing tipping points, hedge risk, and preserve the opportunity space for energy system transformation.
  • Promote innovation and synergies in multi-functional landscapes to reduce energy impacts and enhance co-benefits.

Current projects

See what we’re working on

Ecosystem-Based Carbon Removal

We’re pioneering new analysis and policy advocacy to ensure transparency and accountability around the use of nature-based carbon offsets and land-intensive approaches to engineered carbon removal, while exploring alternate means of protecting and enhancing important land-based carbon sinks.

Learn more.

Climate-Beneficial Bioenergy

We’re working to ensure that bioenergy is climate-beneficial and compatible with food production by improving life-cycle assessments for bioenergy, promoting agricultural innovations for food and energy, developing safeguards for biomass utilization, and advancing traceability systems for biomass supply chains to improve transparency and accountability.

Land-Smart Clean Energy Deployment

We’re advancing landscape-scale energy planning to map and negotiate tradeoffs for different energy transition pathways, promoting land-smart energy innovation and infrastructure deployment, and enhancing socio-economic opportunities at siting locations.