[Interview] Land degradation is affecting two-fifths of humanity
Land use change is one of those terms that we read about frequently and gloss over it.
We read about lakes being converted to high rises, forests being turned farmland or grazing land, ponds being made into fisheries – all of this and more. It happens all the time, everywhere. Since we learnt how to grow food, we have been changing this planet’s surface. And over thousands of years, we have extracted, pulled, transformed and moulded land to our needs and benefits. All of this has led to the wide extent of land degradation that we are facing today – that is undermining the well-being of two fifths of humanity (i.e. 3.2 billion people), driving species extinctions and intensifying climate change. Vegetation loss, forest clearance, wetland drainage, grassland conversion, urban sprawl and pollution, are together leaving a deep impact on human health and happiness. We have substantially transformed 75% of our land surface, which will rise to 90% by 2050.
In the first such evidence-based assessment of land degradation and restoration released on March 26 in Medellin, Colombia, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has concluded that land degradation has reached the point where it has become a major contributor to mass human migration and increased conflict. The three-year assessment report by IPBES, which is termed as the IPCC for biodiversity, was led by more than 100 leading experts from 45 countries, and distilled information from 3,000 scientific, governmental, indigenous and local knowledge sources. But all is not lost yet. The report emphasises that restoration can help keep our planet below the 2 degree increase on global temperatures, and that benefits are 10 times higher than the cost.