New report : Up to 40% of the planet’s land is degraded


The report says the way land resources – soil, water and biodiversity – are currently mismanaged and misused threatens the health and survival of many species on Earth. PHOTO/UNCCD


Up to 40 percent of the planet’s land is degraded, directly affects half of humanity and threatens roughly half of global GDP (US$44 trillion) a new report warns.

The Global Land Outlook  2nd edition report warns that if business as usual continued through 2050, additional degradation of an area almost the size of South America will occur.

Nations’ current pledge to restore 1 billion degraded hectares by 2030 requires $US 1.6 trillion this decade – a fraction of annual $700 billion in fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies.

The second edition of the Global Land Outlook is a must-read for the biodiversity community. The future of biodiversity is precarious. We have already degraded nearly 40 % and altered 70 % of the land,” said  Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Mrema said the world cannot afford to have another “lost decade” for nature and need to act now for a future of life in harmony with nature.

“The GLO2 shows pathways, enablers and knowledge that we should apply to effectively implement the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework,” she said.

The report adds that 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 those of humanity.

The new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) points decision makers to hundreds of practical ways to effect local, national and regional land and ecosystem restoration.


The evidence-based flagship report, five years in development with 21 partner organizations, and with over 1,000 references, is the most comprehensive consolidation of information on the topic ever assembled.

It offers an overview of unprecedented breadth and projects the planetary consequences of three scenarios through 2050: business as usual, restoration of 50 million square km of land, and restoration measures augmented by the conservation of natural areas important for specific ecosystem functions.

“Land is the operative link between biodiversity loss and climate change, and therefore must be the primary focus of any meaningful intervention to tackle these intertwined crises,”Andrea Meza Murillo, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNCCD said.

Murillo added restoring degraded land and soil provides fertile ground on which to take immediate and concerted action,” said Andrea Meza Murillo, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNCCD

It also assesses the potential contributions of land restoration investments to climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, human health and other key sustainable development goals.

“At no other point in modern history has humanity faced such an array of familiar and unfamiliar risks and hazards, interacting in a hyper-connected and rapidly changing world. We cannot afford to underestimate the scale and impact of these existential threats,” warns the report.

It adds conserving, restoring, and using land resources sustainably is a global imperative, one that requires action on a crisis footing…Business as usual is not a viable pathway for humanity’s continued survival and prosperity.

The Global Land Outlook  2nd edition report paints a gloomy picture about the planets health state. PHOTO/UNCCD

The GLO2 report offers hundreds of examples from around the world that demonstrate the potential of land restoration. It is being released before the UNCCD’s 15th session of the Conference of Parties to be held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (COP15, 9-20 May).

The UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, says 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,” he says.

Mr Thiaw said investing in large-scale land restoration is a powerful, cost-effective tool to combat desertification, soil erosion, and loss of agricultural production.

“As a finite resource and our most valuable natural asset, we cannot afford to continue taking land for granted,” he noted.

The report predicts the outcomes by 2050 and risks involved under three scenarios:


In the first baseline scenario, it predicts business as usual; continued current trends in land and natural resource  degradation, while demands for food, feed, fiber, and bioenergy continue to rise.

Land management practices and climate change continue to cause widespread soil erosion, declining fertility and growth in yields, and the further loss of natural areas due to expanding agriculture.

It says by 2050, 16 million square kilometers show continued land degradation (the size of South America), a persistent, long-term decline in vegetative productivity is observed for 12-14% of agricultural, pasture and grazing land, and natural areas – with sub-Saharan Africa worst affected.

It adds an additional 69 gigatonnes of carbon is emitted from 2015 to 2050 due to land use change and soil degradation  This represents 17% of current annual greenhouse gas emissions: soil organic carbon (32 gigatonnes), vegetation (27 gigatonnes), peatland degradation/conversion (10 gigatonnes).

In the second scenario, the report assumes the restoration of around 5 billion hectares (50 million square kilometers or 35% of the global land area) using measures such as agroforestry, grazing management, and assisted natural regeneration. (Current international pledges: 10 million square kilometers).

It says by 2050 crop yields will increase by 5-10% in most developing countries compared to the baseline. Improved soil health leads to higher crop yields, with the largest gains in the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa, limiting food price increases.

The report reveals that land degradation directly affects half of humanity and threatens roughly half of global GDP. PHOTO/UNCCD

It adds soil water holding capacity would increase by 4% in rainfed croplands, carbon stocks will rise by a net 17 gigatonnes between 2015 and 2050 due to gains in soil carbon and reduced emission, while biodiversity will continue to decline, but not as quickly, with 11% of biodiversity loss averted.

The third scenario includes the restoration measures, augmented with protection measures of areas important for biodiversity, water regulation, conservation of soil and carbon stocks, and provision of critical ecosystem functions.

It adds about a third of the biodiversity loss projected in the baseline would be prevented, an additional 83 gigatonnes of carbon are stored compared to the baseline.  Avoided emission and increased carbon storage would be equivalent to more than seven years of total current global emissions.

“As a global community we can no longer rely on incremental reforms within traditional planning and development frameworks to address the profound development and sustainability challenges we are facing in coming decades,” said Nichole Barger, report steering committee member, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, USA

Barger said a rapid transformation in land use and management practices that place people and nature at the center of planning is needed,  prioritizing job creation and building vital skill sets while giving voice to women and youth who have been traditionally marginalized from decision making.

Africa’s Great Green Wall, meanwhile, which aims to restore the continent’s degraded landscapes, exemplifies “a regional restoration initiative that embraces an integrated approach with the promise of transforming the lives of millions of people,” says the report.

“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,” Mr Thiaw says.

Barron Orr, Lead Scientist, UNCCD said just as COVID-19 vaccines were developed, tested, and rolled out at unprecedented speed and scale, so too must land restoration and other nature-based solutions be undertaken to prevent further environmental decline and ensure a healthy and prosperous future.

“We can reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission, increase food and water security, and improve human health and livelihoods by managing, expanding, and connecting protected and natural areas, improving soil, crop, and livestock health in food systems, and creating green and blue spaces in and around cities,” Orr said.

Louise Baker, Director, Global Mechanism, UNCCD said restoring long term health and productivity in food landscapes is a top priority to ensure future sustainability.

“Much as an investor uses financial capital to generate profits, regenerating a forest or improving soil health provides returns in the form of a future supply of timber or food,” Baker said.

The report assesses the potential contributions of land restoration investments to climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction and human health. PHOTO/UNCCD

 Miriam Medel, Chief, External Relations, Policy and Advocacy, UNCCD said indigenous Peoples and local communities are proven land stewards adding the recognition of their rights and their involvement in the long-term management of their lands and of protected areas will be vital to success.

“By designing an innovative, customized land restoration agenda that suits their needs, capacities, and circumstances, countries and communities can recover lost natural resources and better prepare for climate change and other looming threats,” said Johns Muleso Kharika, Chief, Science, Technology and Innovation, UNCCD.


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