Degradation of 40% of Earth’s land threatens half of economic output

Up to 40% of our planet’s land is degraded, directly affecting half of humanity and threatening around 50% of global GDP. By 2050, if we don’t change our trajectory, an additional area almost the size of South America will degrade, with disastrous impacts on climate, biodiversity and human life.

This was the stern warning issued by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in its second Global Land Outlook Report (GLO2). The report was released on April 27, 2022, ahead of the 15th session of the Conference of Parties of the UNCCD (COP15) to be held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from 9 to 20 May. This is the most comprehensive report ever written on land and land degradation. It was developed over five years with 21 partner organizations and over a thousand scientific references.

GLO2 explores the planetary consequences of three scenarios for the coming decades to 2050: status quo, restoration of 5 billion hectares (35% of global land area), and restoration and conservation of natural areas that serve ecosystem functions particularly important.

Under the status quo, land degradation would claim vast swathes of the planet; agricultural productivity would decline in many regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa; and an additional 69 gigatonnes of carbon would be emitted. In the restoration scenario, crop yields would increase by 5-10% in most developing countries, limiting the rise in food prices, while carbon stocks would increase by 17 net gigatonnes; however, biodiversity would continue to decline. In the restoration and protection scenario, one-third of the baseline biodiversity loss would be avoided and 83 gigatonnes of carbon would be stored relative to the baseline.

“Conserving, restoring and using our earth’s resources sustainably is a global imperative, requiring action in times of crisis,” the report’s authors noted. “The status quo is not a viable path for our continued survival and prosperity.”

To meet the current combined commitment of countries to restore one billion hectares by 2030, an estimated $1.6 trillion will be needed in total. By comparison, $700 billion is currently pumped into harmful subsidies for fossil fuels and agriculture each year.

“Investing in large-scale land restoration is a powerful and cost-effective tool to combat desertification, soil erosion and loss of agricultural production,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of UNCCD, in a statement. Press release. “As a finite resource and our most precious natural asset, we cannot afford to continue to take the land for granted.”

Thiaw stressed the importance of transforming the ways we produce food. “Modern agriculture has changed the face of the planet more than any other human activity,” he said. “We need to urgently rethink our global food systems, which are responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use and the leading cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss.”

The report shared hundreds of “snapshots” of successful land restoration practices around the world, such as regenerative agriculture and rewilding, and integrated regional initiatives such as Africa Great Green Wall. “The case studies from around the world presented in GLO2 clearly show that land restoration can be implemented in almost any setting and at many spatial scales, suggesting that every country can design and implement a land restoration program. tailor-made land restoration to meet its development needs,” said Thiaw.

“The findings are really very clear,” said UNCCD Director General Louise Baker. “With our management and misuse of land resources, we have already done a lot of harm. We are now at a crossroads; if we follow the wrong path, the future is very bleak.

“But there is another way – in my opinion, the only right way. We can repair what we have damaged and destroyed and stop the loss of land resources,” she added. “It could be a game-changer for humanity.”

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