Alert: Nature on the Verge of Bankruptcy
(IPS) - Pressures on global land resources are now greater than ever, as a rapidly increasing population coupled with rising levels of consumption is placing ever-larger demands on the world’s land-based natural capital, warns a new United Nations report.
Consumption of t he earth’s natural reserves has doubled in the last 30 years, with a third of the planet’s land now severely degraded, adds the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) new report, launched on 12 September in Ordos, China during the Convention’s 13th summit (6-16 September 2017).
“Each year, we lose 15 billion trees and 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil,” the UNCCD’s report The Global Land Outlook (GLO) says, adding that a significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading and at further risk from climate change and biodiversity loss.
"Land degradation also triggers competition for scarce resources, which can lead to migration and insecurity while exacerbating access and income inequalities."
In basic terms, there is increasing competition between the demand for goods and services that benefit people, like food, water, and energy, and the need to protect other ecosystem services that regulate and support all life on Earth, according to new publication.
The report provides some key facts: from 1998 to 2013, approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface showed persistent declining trends in productivity, apparent in 20 per cent of cropland, 16 per cent of forest land, 19 per cent of grassland, and 27 per cent of rangeland.
These trends are “especially alarming” in the face of the increased demand for land-intensive crops and livestock.”
More Land Degradation, More Climate Change
Land degradation contributes to climate change and increases the vulnerability of millions of people, especially the poor, women, and children, says UNCCD, adding that current management practises in the land-use sector are responsible for about 25 per cent of the world’s greenhouses gases, while land degradation is both a cause and a result of poverty.
“Over 1.3 billion people, mostly in the developing countries, are trapped on degrading agricultural land, exposed to climate stress, and therefore excluded from wider infrastructure and economic development.”
High Temperature, Water Scarcity
Meanwhile, higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and increased water scarcity due to climate change will alter the suitability of vast regions for food production and human habitation, according to the report.
“The mass extinction of flora and fauna, including the loss of crop wild relatives and keystone species that hold ecosystems together, further jeopardises resilience and adaptive capacity, particularly for the rural poor who depend most on the land for their basic needs and livelihoods.”
Our food system, UNCCD warns, has put the focus on short-term production and profit rather than long-term environmental sustainability.
Monocultures, Genetically Modified Crops
The modern agricultural system has resulted in huge increases in productivity, holding off the risk of famine in many parts of the world but, at the same time, is based on monocultures, genetically modified crops, and the intensive use of fertilisers and pesticides that undermine long-term sustainability, it adds.
And here are some of the consequences: food production accounts for 70 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals and 80 per cent of deforestation, while soil, the basis for global food security, is being contaminated, degraded, and eroded in many areas, resulting in long-term declines in productivity.
In parallel, small-scale farmers, the backbone of rural livelihoods and food production for millennia, are under immense strain from land degradation, insecure tenure, and a globalised food system that favours concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanised agribusiness.
This widening gulf between production and consumption, and ensuing levels of food loss/waste, further accelerates the rate of land use change, land degradation and deforestation, warns the UN Convention.
Speaking at the launch of the report, UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut said, “Land degradation and drought are global challenges and intimately linked to most, if not all aspects of human security and well-being – food security, employment and migration, in particular.”
No Land, No Civilisation
According the Convention, land is an essential building block of civilisation yet its contribution to our quality of life is perceived and valued in starkly different and often incompatible ways.
A minority has grown rich from the unsustainable use and large- scale exploitation of l and resources with related conflicts intensifying in many countries, UNCCD states.
“Our ability to manage trade- offs at a landscape scale will ultimately decide t he f uture of l and resources – soil, water, and biodiversity – and determine success or failure in delivering poverty reduction, food and water security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”