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Scenarios of land use and land cover play an important role in exploring future developments and policy options for climate change, biodiversity, food security, ecosystem services, and sustainable development. The exploration of future global land use in international assessments started in the 1990s (SRES)1 and gained increasing importance in environmental outlooks and assessments2,3. During the last decade, the number of studies and models on global land-use projections has increased tremendously, reflecting concerns about land scarcity, climate change impacts or bioenergy threatening food security4,5,6,7, loss of natural areas and biodiversity, and sustainable development in general8,9. However, despite the central role of land use in future environmental change, the modeling and systematic model comparison of global land-use projections is still in its infancy10,11 and the uncertainty in results is large12,13,14,15. Land use results from multiple interactions between regionally specific demand and supply systems, numerous feedback processes, and smaller-scale factors such as land-use regulation and land ownership, and therefore projecting land-use change is highly complex. As an example, although agricultural production has increased by about 60% during the last 40 years, global cropland area has increased by only 5% as a result of increased agricultural productivity (intensification)16. Therefore, the intricate interplay between demand and production, and agricultural intensification is a core determinant of future land use. To account for the range of possible developments in these drivers, long-term projections are often dealt with following a scenario approach, where fundamental uncertainties in socio-economic factors are explicitly varied along so-called storylines to explore contrasting futures. However, the range of model outcomes for such scenarios tends to be large and results may depend equally on model characteristics as on storylines and assumptions15. Given the importance of land-use projections for informing policy makers in the areas of climate change, food security, and biodiversity protection, it is important to investigate the spread across storylines and model results, to better understand the possible evolution of land use and the food system.

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