The conference, in which more than 1,500 participants from governments, academics, civil society and the private sector discussed the latest research, general trends, achievements and setbacks around land governance in the world, is a good mirror of the growing and changing attention given to land issues.

Land is key to political stability and security

The quest for safeguarding biodiversity through area protection following, for instance, the Aichi target of protecting at least 17 per cent of the landscape brings environmentalists and the tourism industry up against farmers and local communities. It has been increasingly (re)discovered that land is key to political stability and security. For example, the 2012 UN report Toolkit and guidance for preventing and managing land and natural resources conflict states that “land issues have played a significant role in all but three of the more than 30 intra-state conflicts that have taken place in Africa since 1990”. Also at individual level, land issues are dominating conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even land redistribution has been back on the agenda in at least some countries (e.g. South Africa, Colombia), following a global hype in the 1960s and 70s with very mixed experiences. Booming urbanisation often creates chaos in the peripheries and a lot of losers, such as informal squatters who are displaced (but also winners, e.g. investors and formal industries, and their workforce, in need of land or farmers who can sell agricultural land at very high prices) and uncertainty particularly in countries with weak land rights. Not only is a fair distribution of gains and losses necessary, but also urban planning requires secure land rights, transparent planning processes and fair transfers. Land is increasingly seen as a source for taxation in the international quest to increase the rate of government revenue.

Digitisation of land use management

The theme of the World Bank conference hints to another megatrend, that fosters interest in land: innovations, in particular Information and Communication Technology (ICT).