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Sunday, September 24, 2023

UN report offers warnings, remedies amid chronic land degradation

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, warns a stark new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Ibrahim Thiaw
Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

It also points decision makers to hundreds of practical ways to effect local, national and regional land and ecosystem restoration.

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.

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.

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.

Warns the report: “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.

“Conserving, restoring, and using our land resources sustainably is a global imperative, one that requires action on a crisis footing…Business as usual is not a viable pathway for our continued survival and prosperity.”

GLO2 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).

Says 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 finite resource and our most valuable natural asset, we cannot afford to continue taking land for granted.”

Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said: “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. We 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.”

Andrea Meza Murillo, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNCCD: “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. Restoring degraded land and soil provides fertile ground on which to take immediate and concerted action.”

Nichole Barger, report steering committee member, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, USA: “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. A rapid transformation in land use and management practices that place people and nature at the centre of our planning is needed, prioritising job creation and building vital skill sets while giving voice to women and youth who have been traditionally marginalised from decision making.”

Barron Orr, Lead Scientist, UNCCD: “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.”

Louise Baker, Director, Global Mechanism, UNCCD: “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.”

Miriam Medel, Chief, External Relations, Policy and Advocacy, UNCCD: “Indigenous Peoples and local communities are proven land stewards. 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.”

Johns Muleso Kharika, Chief, Science, Technology and Innovation, UNCCD: “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.”

Fran Price, Lead, WWF Forest Practice: “The Global Land Outlook released today reaffirms the need for urgent action on ecosystem restoration, climate change and nature conservation. The report warns that if current trends persist, the risk of irreversible environmental changes, severe climate-induced disturbances and widespread food insecurity will increase. That’s not a risk we can afford. The goods and services nature provides underpin human health and well-being – nearly one in three outbreaks of new and emerging diseases are linked to land-use change, including deforestation.

“In a warmer world, agriculturally productive areas, growing seasons, yields and nutritional density of food are all predicted to decline – meaning we would have less and lower quality food. It’s time to start valuing nature for the critical ecosystem services it provides, to halt deforestation, conversion and degradation, transform our food systems and restore degraded ecosystems in a way that benefits people and nature.

“Under the umbrella of the Rio Conventions and the Bonn Challenge, countries committed to bring 1 billion hectares into restoration worldwide by 2030. But implementation lags far behind. Finance to enhance and scale up restoration needs to increase, and we need ground-up inclusive solutions and more streamlined monitoring to take stock of progress.”

Joao Campari, Lead, WWF Food Practice: “Better coordination in the implementation of the restoration commitments done under UNCCD, UNFCCC and CBD would help achieve the restoration needed to become nature positive by 2030. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-30 provides an important opportunity to support this effort, scale up finance for restoration and work on the ground at landscape level.

“Transformation of our food systems is urgently needed to strengthen the implementation of global land, biodiversity and climate agendas. Applying nature-positive food production practices, such as agroecology or regenerative agriculture, will not only reduce deforestation, conversion and degradation, it will actively help restore soil health. The public and private sector must follow-through on their commitments at the UN Food Systems Summit to integrate food systems transformation more deeply in national actions and commitments to the 2030 Sustainability Agenda.

“Additionally, the value of the services that land provides – not least to human health – are immense, but they aren’t fully recognized in our economic system. Governments, financial institutions and businesses need to put in place the right incentives – and remove harmful subsidies and supports, particularly for food production – to ensure forests, grasslands and other ecosystems are worth more standing than cut down and being converted. Agriculture must shift from being the primary cause of degradation to becoming the principal catalyst for land and soil restoration, which can only be achieved by integrating the nature, nutrition and climate agendas.”

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