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Land systems are the result of human interactions with the natural environment. Understanding the drivers, state, trends and impacts of different land systems on social and natural processes helps to reveal how changes in the land system affect the functioning of the socio-ecological system as a whole and the tradeoff these changes may represent. The Global Land Project has led advances by synthesizing land systems research across different scales and providing concepts to further understand the feedbacks between social-and environmental systems, between urban and rural environments and between distant world regions. Land system science has moved from a focus on observation of change and understanding the drivers of these changes to a focus on using this understanding to design sustainable transformations through stakeholder engagement and through the concept of land governance. As land use can be seen as the largest geo-engineering project in which mankind has engaged, land system science can act as a platform for integration of insights from different disciplines and for translation of knowledge into action.