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Eric Lambin, a geographer and environmental scientist, divides his time between the Université catholique de Louvain (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium) and Stanford University, were he occupies the Ishiyama Provostial Professorship at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the Woods Institute for the Environment. His research tries to better understand causes and impacts of land use changes in different parts of the world. He was Chair of the international scientific project Land Use and Land Cover Change (LUCC) from 1999 to 2005. He was awarded the 2009 Francqui Prize, the 2014 Volvo Environment Prize, the 2019 Blue Planet Prize, and is Foreign Associate at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His current research tries to understand how globalization affects global land use, and how private and public regulations of land use interact to promote more sustainable land use practices.
My research aims at better understanding the causes and impacts of land use changes both globally and in ‘hot spots’ of environmental change. I work at the interface between natural and social sciences. I am conducting a number of land system change studies in different parts of the world using methods that link remote sensing data with socio-economic data. My research reveals cross-scale dynamics causing tropical deforestation, forest transitions, and dryland degradation. My research is focused on solutions for sustainable land use and has implications for land use governance.<br/><br/>My research uses original approaches to link geo-referenced socio-economic data with biophysical data to better understand the causes of land use change and their impacts on ecosystem attributes. Methods linking “people to pixels” (i.e., joint statistical analysis of fine resolution remote sensing data with geo-referenced, detailed household survey data) allow for a spatial disaggregation of land use studies at the level of decision-making agents. This has led to a new understanding of the complexity of land change processes. My research also investigates human and ecosystem responses to land change. Social and ecological feedbacks of land use change are sources of non-linear dynamics and land-use transitions. With my research team, we conduct detailed analyses of the main cases of contemporary forest transitions, whereby a country shifts from net deforestation to net reforestation. Our research on Vietnam, Bhutan, Chile, Costa Rica provided a rich understanding of how to “bend the curve” in land use. Several generic pathways leading to forest transitions were identified.<br/><br/>This research on forest transitions also revealed something quite unexpected: all countries that protected their forests and reversed deforestation simultaneously increased their imports of wood and agricultural products from other countries. They were thus all off-shoring their deforestation to other countries by displacing their land use beyond their borders. This latter discovery led to new research projects on the link between economic globalization and land use, which is now referred to as “telecoupling”.<br/><br/>A major policy implication of these findings is that national land use policies alone were not sufficient to achieve global forest conservation, given a leakage (or geographic displacement) of land use change to other places. The next logical step was thus to analyze how the governance of global supply chains in agricultural and forestry products could lead to more sustainable land use. With my team, we then conducted a series of evaluations of the effectiveness of eco-certification schemes and sustainable sourcing commitments by the private sector. These were among the very first studies analyzing empirically, using the most rigorous methods, the impact of supply chain interventions on land use. One of the key finding was that the effectiveness of a private governance of land use depends on supportive public policies. One of our current contributions is thus to analyze systematically the interactions between governments, NGOs, and companies for the design and implementation of interventions for sustainable land use.<br/><br/>I have supervised many PhD students and postdocs, with 32 PhDs completed so far under my supervision, and five current PhD students. Many of my past graduate students have become highly productive scholars in top universities. Others occupy key science or policy positions.