By Jutta Wolf
Land degradation has reached staggering proportions. If the current pace continues unabated, a gargantuan amount of $43,000,000,000,000 ($43 trillion) will be lost to the world economy by the year 2050, warns the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
But the anticipated colossal loss can be avoided by spending $4.6 trillion on addressing a combination of human-induced processes adversely affecting the biophysical environment and huge stretches of fertile lands.
169 countries around the world are suffering from land degradation and drought or only drought. Of these, 116 countries are committed to achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) under the UNCCD LDN Target-Setting Programme that supports countries in reaching target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Target 15.3, on Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN), encourages countries to halt land degradation in order to ensure the quantity of productive land remains stable. The target is now also recognized as vital for accelerating other SDGs, such as: Goal 1 (No poverty), Goal 2 (Zero hunger), Goal 5 (Promote gender equality), Goal 6 (Clean water and sanitation), Goal 8 (Decent work and economic growth), and Goal 13 (Climate action).
“Healthy land is the primary asset that supports livelihoods around the globe – from food to jobs and decent incomes. Today, we face a crisis of unseen proportions: 1.5 billion people – mainly in the world’s most impoverished countries – are trapped on degrading agricultural land,” says Juan Carlos Mendoza, Managing Director of the UNCCD Global Mechanism.
This reality is fuelling extreme poverty, particularly in areas such as the Sahel and South Asia, where extreme and erratic weather events are on the rise due to the impacts of climate change, Mendoza adds.
To remedy the situation, the UNCCD is preparing LDN country profiles based largely on the analytical work undertaken by the Center for Development Research of the University of Bonn, the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The profiles aim to help guide policy decisions on land use management.
The UNCCD has meanwhile assembled profiles of 21 countries into comprehensive and easy-to-use Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Country Profiles, which are available online. The LDN Country Profiles reveal that average losses for these 21 countries are equivalent to 9 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The percentage is even higher for some of the planet’s worst affected countries, such as the Central African Republic, where the total losses are estimated at a stunning 40 percent. Asia and Africa bear the highest costs, estimated at $84 billion and $65 billion per year respectively.
The 21 countries whose profiles have been released on May 9 are also engaged in the LDN target setting process, formulating targets and associated measures to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation.
For example, the Central African Republic has committed to restoring more than 1 million hectares of degraded land – equal to 15 percent of its territory –which will limit its potential losses and economic burden nationwide.
“The LDN Country Profiles provide policy-makers with easily accessible and scientifically sound information that can help estimate the value of their investments in land restoration and make informed choices on the economic returns they can expect from taking assertive action now,” says Mendoza.
“Moreover, the profiles illustrate the equivalent monetary value of land degradation and its impact on the international community, while providing strong incentives for cooperation among countries,” he adds.