In an increasingly globalized world with more and more distributed international supply chains, sustainability studies and policies need to consider socioeconomic and environmental interactions between distant places. Studies of the global biomass metabolism investigate physical flows between and within nature and human systems, thus providing a useful basis for understanding the interrelatedness of changes in one place with impacts elsewhere. Various methodological approaches exist for studying the human-nature metabolism and estimating the land embodied in international trade flows, a core element of assessing telecouplings in the global land system. The results of recent studies vary widely, lacking robustness and thus hampering their application in policy making. This article provides a structured overview and comparative evaluation of existing accounting methods and models for calculating land footprints. We identify differences in available accounting methods and indicate their shortcomings, which are mainly attributable to the product and supply chain coverage and detail, and biases introduced by the use of monetary flows as a proxy for actual physical flows. We suggest options for further development of global land footprint accounting methods, particularly highlighting the advantages of hybrid accounting approaches as a framework for robust and transparent assessments of the global displacement of land use.
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