Up to 40% of the land on the planet is degraded, warns a stark new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The consequences already directly affect half of all humanity and also threaten roughly half of global GDP — $44 trillion. If we continue along a business-as-usual trajectory through 2050, additional degradation will impact an area nearly the size of South America.
The way land resources — soil, water and biodiversity — are currently mismanaged and misused threatens the health and continued survival of many species on Earth, including our own. The current pledge by nations to restore one billion degraded hectares by 2030 requires $US1.6 trillion this decade. To put that figure in perspective, however, it represents a mere fraction of fossil-fuel and agricultural subsidies, which now run to $700 billion a year.
Call to action: Place land use on a crisis footing
UNCCD’s evidence-based flagship Global Land Outlook 2 (GLO2) report — five years in development with 21 partner organisations, and with over 1,000 references — is the most comprehensive consolidation of information on the topic ever assembled. Its release comes shortly before the UNCCD’s 15th session of the Conference of Parties, to be held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (COP15, 9-20 May).
The report offers an overview of unprecedented breadth and projects the planetary consequences of three scenarios through 2050: business as usual; restoration of 50M sq km of land; and restoration measures augmented by the conservation of natural areas important for specific ecosystem functions.
The report concludes that the interconnecting array of familiar and unfamiliar risks and hazards being faced by humanity means we cannot afford to underestimate the scale and impact of these existential threats. Conserving, restoring, and using our land resources sustainably is a global imperative that requires action on a ‘crisis footing’.
Business as usual is simply not a viable option, explains Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD:
“Modern agriculture has altered the face of the planet more than any other human activity. We need to urgently rethink our global food systems, which are responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use, and the single greatest cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss.
“Investing in large-scale land restoration is a powerful, cost-effective tool to combat desertification, soil erosion, and loss of agricultural production. As a our most valuable natural asset, we cannot afford to continue taking land for granted.”
Tailored solutions for every country
In response, GLO2 points decision-makers in the direction of hundreds of practical ways to effect local, national and regional land and ecosystem restoration. It also assesses potential contributions of land restoration investments to climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, human health and other key SDGs.
The good news is that the solutions are both many and doable, concludes Thiaw:
“The case studies from around the world showcased in GLO2 make clear that land restoration can be implemented in almost all settings and at many spatial scales, suggesting that every country can design and implement a tailored land restoration agenda to meet their development needs.“
Many of the cases, underscore the value of education, training, and capacity building, not just for local communities, but also for government officials, land managers, and development planners. Linking local engagement to national policies and budgets will help ensure a responsive and well-aligned restoration agenda that delivers tangible outcomes for people, nature, and the climate.
In particular, Africa’s Great Green Wall is held up by the report as an example of a regional restoration initiative that embraces an integrated approach with the promise of transforming the lives of millions of people. Launched in 2007, the ambitious 8,000km project is being implemented across 22 countries in Africa. It aims to restore the continent’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in the Sahel.
Preventing, halting, and reversing the degradation of ecosystems worldwide is the focus of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), which calls for a broad and balanced response, addressing all ecosystems and their connectivity to reestablish a healthy landscape mosaic. These efforts are closely aligned with SDG target 15.3, which calls on countries to strive to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030.
- Read the summary and access the full report for the Global Land Outlook 2 (GLO2);
- More about United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD);
- More about the UNCCD COP15, in Côte d’Ivoire (COP15, 9-20 May);
- More about the Great Green Wall project;
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