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Summary for policymakers of the assessment report on land degradation and restoration of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)


“In just over three decades from now, an estimated 4 billion people will live in drylands,” said Prof. Scholes.
“By then it is likely that land degradation, together with the closely related problems of climate change, will have forced 50-700 million people to migrate.
Decreasing land productivity also makes societies more vulnerable to social instability – particularly in dryland areas, where years with extremely low rainfall have been associated with an increase of up to 45% in violent conflict.”

Dr. Montanarella added: “By 2050, the combination of land degradation and climate change is predicted to reduce global crop yields by an average of 10%, and by up to 50% in some regions. In the future, most degradation will occur in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia – the areas with the most land still remaining that is suitable for agriculture.”

1. Avoiding, reducing and reversing land degradation and restoring degraded land is an urgent priority to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to all life on Earth and to ensure human well-being.
1. Land degradation through human activities is undermining the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people.
1. Land degradation through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction.
1. Widespread lack of awareness of land degradation as a problem is a major barrier to action.
1. Less than one quarter of the Earth’s land surface remains free from substantial human impacts. By 2050 it is estimated that this will drop to less than 10% – and this will be mostly in deserts, mountainous areas, tundra and polar areas unsuitable for human use or settlement.
1. Wetlands are particularly degraded, with 87% lost globally in the last 300 years; 54% since 1900.
1. Habitat loss through transformation, and the decline in suitability of the remaining habitat through degradation, are the leading causes of biodiversity loss.
1. Between 1970 and 2012, the index of the average population size of wild land-based species of vertebrates dropped by 38% and freshwater species by 81%.

1. The population in drylands will have increased from 2.7 billion in 2010 to 4 billion by 2050.
1. The unprecedented growth in consumption, demography and technology will roughly quadruple the global economy in the first half of the twenty-first century.
1. Unless urgent and concerted action is taken, land degradation will worsen in the face of population growth, unprecedented consumption, an increasingly globalized economy, and climate change.
1. Most future degradation is expected to occur in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
1. Land degradation and climate change are likely to force 50 to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.
1. By 2050, land degradation and climate change will reduce crop yields by an average of 10% globally, and up to 50% in certain regions.
1. The capacity of rangelands to support livestock will continue to diminish in the future, due to both land degradation and loss of rangeland area.
1. Biodiversity loss is projected to reach 38–46% by 2050. The strongest drivers of biodiversity loss to date have been agriculture followed by forestry, infrastructure, urban encroachment and climate change. In the 2010–2050 period, climate change, crop agriculture and infrastructure development are expected to be the drivers of biodiversity loss with the greatest projected increase.
1. In a middle of the road scenario, the reduction is projected to be equivalent to a complete loss of the original biodiversity of an area about 1.5 times the size of the USA.

1. The estimated economic cost of biodiversity and ecosystem services lost because of land degradation is more than 10% of annual global gross product.
1. High-consumption lifestyles in more developed economies, combined with rising consumption in developing and emerging economies, are the dominant factors driving land degradation globally.
1. Studies from Asia and Africa indicate that the cost of inaction on land degradation is at least three times higher than the cost of action.
1. The benefits of restoration exceed the costs by an average ratio of 10 to one (estimated across nine biomes).
1. Benefits include increased employment, business spending, local investment in education, and improved livelihoods and gender equity.
1. The full impact of consumption choices on land degradation worldwide is not often visible due to the distances that can separate many consumers and producers.
1. The increasing spatial disconnect between consumers and the ecosystems that produce the food and other commodities they depend upon has resulted in a growing lack of awareness and understanding of the implications of consumption choices for land degradation.
1. Many of those who benefit from overexploitation of natural resources are among the least affected by the direct negative impacts of land degradation, and therefore have the least incentive to take action.

Climate Change Links
1. Land degradation is a major contributor to climate change, and climate change is foreseen as a leading driver of biodiversity loss (along with crop agriculture and infrastructure development) through 2050.
1. The contribution of land degradation to climate change includes the release of carbon sequestered in soil. Between 2000 and 2009, land degradation was responsible for annual global emissions of 3.6–4.4 billion tonnes of CO2.
1. Over the past 200 years, soil organic carbon, an indicator of soil health, has dropped an estimated 8% globally (176 Gt C - equivalent to the carbon that would be lost from clearing an area of tropical forest approximately the size of Australia).
1. Without urgent action, further losses of 36 gigatons of carbon from soils - especially from Sub-Saharan Africa – is projected by 2050 (equivalent to nearly 20 years of emissions from the global transportation sector - all freight and passenger traffic by land, air, water and sea). The main processes include deforestation and forest degradation, the drying and burning of peatlands, and the decline of carbon content in many cultivated soils and rangelands because of excessive disturbance and insufficient return of organic matter to the soil.
1. Deforestation alone contributes approximately 10% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and can further alter the climate through changes in surface reflectivity and the generation of dust particles.
1. In mountainous and high latitude regions, permafrost melt and glacier retreat will result in mass land movements such as landslides and surface subsidence (cave-ins, sinking) and higher greenhouse gas emissions. In forests, the likelihood of wildfires, pest and disease outbreaks increases in scenarios where droughts and hot spells are projected to be more frequent.
1. The impacts of climate change on land degradation include accelerated soil erosion on degrade lands as a result of more extreme weather events, increased risk of forest fires, and changes in the distribution of invasive species, pests and pathogens.
1. Strong 2-way interaction between climate change and land degradation mean the issues are best addressed in a coordinated way.
1. Some activities aimed at climate change mitigation can increase the risk of land degradation and biodiversity loss - e.g. expansion of bioenergy crops. Planting trees where they did not historically occur (afforestation), can have an impact similar to deforestation, including the reduction of biodiversity and disruption of water, energy and nutrient cycles.
1. Avoiding, reducing and reversing land degradation could provide more than a third of the most cost-effective greenhouse gas mitigation activities needed by 2030 to keep global warming under 2°C, increase food and water security, and contribute to the avoidance of conflict and migration.

Human Health and Security
1. Four-fifths of the world’s population now lives in areas where there is a threat to water security.
1. Every 5% loss of gross domestic product, itself partly caused by degradation, is associated with a 12% increase in the likelihood of violent conflict.
1. Transformation of natural ecosystems to human use can increase the risk of human diseases such as Ebola, monkey pox and Marburg virus, some of which have become global health risks by bringing people into more frequent contact with pathogens capable of transferring from wild to human hosts. Modifications in hydrological regimes affect the prevalence of pathogens and vents that spread disease
1. Land degradation generally increases the number of people exposed to hazardous air, water and land pollution, particularly in developing countries, with the worst-off countries recording rates of pollution-related loss of life higher than those in wealthy countries.
1. Land degradation generally harms psychological well-being by reducing benefits to mental balance, attention, inspiration and healing. It has particularly negative impacts on the mental health and spiritual well-being of indigenous peoples and local communities.
1. Land degradation, especially in coastal and riparian areas, increases the risk of storm damage, flooding and landslides, with high socio-economic and human costs.

Land degradation is a pervasive, systemic phenomenon: it occurs in all parts of the terrestrial world and can take many forms. Combating land degradation and restoring degraded land is an urgent priority to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to all life on Earth and to ensure human well-being

Currently, degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is negatively impacting the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction, and costing more than 10 per cent of the annual global gross product in loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Loss of ecosystem services through land degradation has reached high levels in many parts of the world, resulting in negative impacts that challenge the coping capacity of human ingenuity.

Groups in situations of vulnerability feel the greatest negative effects of land degradation, and often experience them first. These groups also see the greatest benefits from avoiding, reducing and reversing land degradation (Figure SPM.1).

The main direct drivers of land degradation and associated biodiversity loss are expansion of crop and grazing lands into native vegetation, unsustainable agricultural and forestry practices, climate change, and, in specific areas, urban expansion, infrastructure development and extractive industry.

Investing in avoiding land degradation and the restoration of degraded land makes sound economic sense; the benefits generally by far exceed the cost. Land degradation contributes to the decline and eventual extinction of species and the loss of ecosystem services to humanity, making avoidance, reduction and reversal of land degradation essential for human well-being. Main cause of species loss & driver of the migration of millions of people by 2050 In landmark 3-year assessment report, 100+ experts outline costs, dangers & options Issued by the IPBES secretariat on 23 March 2018.

Options for Land Restoration

The report notes that successful examples of land restoration are found in every ecosystem, and that many well-tested practices and techniques, both traditional and modern, can avoid or reverse degradation.

In croplands, for instance, some of these include reducing soil loss and improving soil health, the use of salt tolerant crops, conservation agriculture and integrated crop, livestock and forestry systems.

In rangelands with traditional grazing, maintenance of appropriate fire regimes, and the reinstatement or development of local livestock management practices and institutions have proven effective.

Successful responses in wetlands have included control over pollution sources, managing the wetlands as part of the landscape, and reflooding wetlands damaged by draining.

In urban areas, urban spatial planning, replanting with native species, the development of ‘green infrastructure’ such as parks and riverways, remediation of contaminated and sealed soils (e.g. under asphalt), wastewater treatment and river channel restoration are identified as key options for action.
read further from the Media Release: Worsening Worldwide Land Degradation Now ‘Critical’, Undermining Well-Being of 3.2 Billion People (

R. Scholes, L. Montanarella, A. Brainich, N. Barger, B. ten Brink, M. Cantele, B. Erasmus, J. Fisher, T. Gardner, T. G. Holland, F. Kohler, J. S. Kotiaho, G. Von Maltitz, G. Nangendo, R. Pandit, J. Parrotta, M. D. Potts, S. Prince, M. Sankaran and L. Willemen (eds.).

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