Land degradation increases further risk of nature loss and climate impacts, says UNCCD

From vast landscapes of healthy ecosystems to a horizon of dry open fields. The world’s land area is now 40% degraded and accelerating, a new UN Convention to Combat Desertification report states. This means that greater risk to the climate, biodiversity and the world’s ability to feed a growing population. But actions that focus on protecting remaining natural ecosystems, restoring degraded ones and sustainably managing productive lands can help halt – and even reverse – some of this damage.

Land is considered ‘degraded’ when most of its natural resources, soil fertility, water, biodiversity, trees or native vegetation is depleted, many of them which include “green” areas that were intensely farmed or deforested.

The Global Land Outlook 2 report clearly states that land degradation and drought are global challenges that are “intimately linked” to food security, migration and employment, among other factors. The report states that, if the current trend continues, another 11% of the world’s land surface – about the size of South America – could be degraded by 2050.

Most vulnerable countries and groups, especially women, are mentioned in the report as being particularly badly affected as it can lead to displacement and worsening of social inequalities. 

Nature-based solutions are actions that protect, restore and sustainably manage natural ecosystems

While the exponential growth of food production is the main driver of such degradation, it is also the sector that could suffer the most if no meaningful action is taken. “As the ready supply of healthy and productive land dries up and the population grows, competition is intensifying for land within countries and globally,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut said. 

A sustainable approach to land use, in conjunction with solutions that help protect existing native vegetation and restore degraded ones, is vital to ensure we can feed the growing population at the same time as attending to the Paris Agreement targets and preserving biodiversity to which all life depends on.

This corroborates the findings of the latest IPCC Working Group III report, launched earlier this month, where reducing deforestation and implementing reforestation and promoting carbon sequestration in agriculture made up three of the top five most effective options for mitigating carbon emissions by 2030.

The report also links to the fact that at least $1.8 trillion – equivalent to 2% of global GDP – is spent every year on subsidies that are harmful to nature, with key sectors of the economy, including agriculture, being responsible for most global emissions and thus environmental impacts, global inequalities and climate.

Key findings of the report:

  • Up to 40 % of the planet’s land is degraded, directly affects half of humanity, threatens roughly half of global GDP (US$44 trillion)
  • If business as usual continued through 2050, the report projects additional degradation of an area almost the size of South America
  • Nations’ current pledge to restore 1 billion degraded hectares by 2030 requires $US 1.6 trillion this decade – a fraction of the annual $700 billion in fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies
  • As food prices soar amid rapid climate and other planetary changes, “crisis footing” is needed to conserve, restore and use land sustainably
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