Like a broken cell phone that can only text or take photos but not make a single call, more than 75 percent of Earth's land areas have lost some or most of their functions, undermining well-being. of the 3.2 billion people who depend on them to grow food crops, provide clean water, control floods and more.
These once productive lands have become deserts, polluted, or deforested and converted for unsustainable agricultural production. This is a major contributor to increased conflict and mass migration of humans, and if left unchecked, could force migration of up to 700 million by 2050, according to the first comprehensive global assessment of land degradation. published in March of this year in Medellín, Colombia.
Land degradation, including deforestation, soil erosion and salinity, and pollution of freshwater systems, is also driving species to extinction and compounding the effects of climate change, the report concludes. It was written by more than 100 leading experts from 45 countries for the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). IPBES is the "IPCC for Biodiversity", a scientific assessment of the state of non-human life that makes up the Earth's life support system. An important companion report was released on Friday documenting the rapid and dangerous decline in biodiversity. It demanded fundamental changes in the way we live, run our societies and the economy.
"This is an extremely urgent issue that we must address yesterday," said Robert Scholes, a South African ecologist and co-chair of the assessment. "Land degradation is having the greatest impact on the well-being of humanity," Scholes said in an interview in Medellín.
According to the report, human activities, mainly those related to agriculture and urbanization, have destroyed or degraded the soil, forests and other natural resources of vegetation and water everywhere. Wetlands have been the hardest hit, with 87 percent lost globally in the last 300 years. Wetlands continue to be destroyed in Southeast Asia and the Congo region, mainly to plant oil palm trees.
Less than 25 percent of the Earth's land surface has escaped the substantial impacts of human activity, and by 2050, this will have decreased to less than 10 percent. Most of these future land losses will occur in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The only places that will remain relatively unaffected will be the polar regions and tundra, high mountains and deserts, according to the report.
Ending land degradation is "an urgent priority to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to all life on Earth and ensure human well-being," said Luca Montanarella, a soil scientist from Italy and co-chair. of the evaluation.
“We have known it for more than 20 years, but it is only getting worse,” Montanarella said in an interview in Medellín.
There is little public awareness and most governments do not consider it an urgent issue. The only way to stop the decline is at the local level, and through the choices each of us make, he said.
Those options include choosing to eat less meat and buying food from local producers using the most sustainable farming practices. Up to 40 percent of food is wasted globally at various points, from farms to overfilled refrigerators, said Robert Watson, President of IPBES. Countries must also end their production subsidies in agriculture, fisheries, energy and other sectors, Watson told Motherboard.
Rich countries must take responsibility for the impacts that their consumption of imported products may have. The UK's rural landscape is a tourist attraction because the country imports 35 to 40 percent of its food from other countries, Watson said. "People don't see the impacts of their consumption."
Ending land degradation and restoring damaged lands would provide more than a third of the most profitable greenhouse gas mitigation activities required by 2030 to keep global warming below 2 ° C. And doing this would cost the less three times less than doing nothing and would create much better livelihoods and jobs for local people, Watson said.
"Taking the right actions to combat land degradation can transform the lives of millions of people around the planet, but this will be more difficult and costly the longer we take to act," he said.
by Stephen Leahy
Original article (in English)