The Global Land Outlook is billed as the most comprehensive study of its type, mapping the interlinked impacts of urbanisation, climate change, erosion and forest loss. But the biggest factor is the expansion of industrial farming.
The impacts vary enormously from region to region. Worst affected is sub-Saharan Africa, but poor land management in Europe also accounts for an estimated 970m tonnes of soil loss from erosion each year with impacts not just on food production but biodiversity, carbon loss and disaster resilience. High levels of food consumption in wealthy countries such as the UK are also a major driver of soil degradation overseas.
The paper was launched at a meeting of the UNCCD in Ordos, China, where signatory nations are submitting voluntary targets to try to reduce degradation and rehabilitate more land. On Monday, Brazil and India were the latest countries to outline their plan to reach “land degradation neutrality”. However, the study notes that pressures will continue to grow. In a series of forecasts on land use for 2050, the authors note that sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, the Middle East and north Africa will face the greatest challenges unless the world sees lower levels of meat consumption, better land regulation and improved farming efficiency.