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Abstract

Almost one-quarter of the world’s land area has been degraded over the past 50 years because of soil erosion, salinization, peatland and wetland drainage, and forest degradation. The resulting damage, in terms of lost ecosystem goods and services, costs the world an estimated US$6.3 trillion a year. Almost a quarter of the world’s land area has been degraded over the past 50 years.
This is the result of soil erosion, salinization, peatland and wetland drainage, and forest degradation.
The scale of the resulting damage is staggering: It costs the world an estimated $6.3 trillion a year (8.3 percent of global GDP in 2016) in lost ecosystem service value, which includes agricultural products, clean air, fresh water, climate regulation, recreational opportunities, and fertile soils (Sutton et al. 2016).

Land degradation also jeopardizes the livelihoods of half a billion mostly poor people who depend on forests and agricultural lands. Declining land productivity undermines sustainable development, threatens food and water security, and leads to involuntary human migration and even civil conflict. At the global scale, land degradation compromises the integrity of the biosphere. Biodiversity loss represents a reduction of the world’s genetic resources as well as an incalculable diminution in the richness of life on earth. Forests help to regulate the global hydrological cycle, and plant vegetation and soils are a major carbon sink helping to offset human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide. Restoring forests and other landscapes should be an urgent global priority.
There has never been a more pressing moment to restore the world’s degraded landscapes. Around 2 billion hectares of land—twice the size of China—was once forested but is now degraded, with little economic or ecological value. Rarely, if ever, have humans wasted a valuable resource with such abandon. It has been estimated that land degradation costs countries more than $6 trillion per year.