“Critical” Land Degradation Could Displace 50 To 700 Million People By 2050

The dangers of land degradation are detailed for policymakers, together with a catalogue of corrective options, in the three-year assessment report by more than 100 leading experts from 45 countries. Fokke Barrssen/Shutterstock

Madison Dapcevich 29 Mar 2018, 00:20

Two-fifths of the world’s population are threatened by land degradation. With more than 75 percent of the world’s land areas substantially degraded by pollution, extreme weather, deforestation, and agricultural production, experts warn as many as 700 million people could be forced to migrate in the next three decades.

Experts from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) say that without urgent action, conditions will worsen. As population growth and consumption continue to rise, it could lead to the world’s sixth mass extinction. The findings were published in the world’s first comprehensive report assessing land degradation and restoration.

High-consumption lifestyles in most developed countries, as well as developing and emerging economies, puts an increased strain on the planet’s resources. We need more fuel for our cars, more supplies for infrastructure, and more food and space to accommodate a growing global population. This agricultural expansion and urbanization, coupled with natural resource and mineral extraction, will leave less than only 10 percent of the Earth’s land not substantially impacted by human activity by 2050, says the report.

Most degradation is expected to happen in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia – where the cost of inaction is at least three times higher than acting – forcing 50 to 700 million people to migrate in that timeframe. It will affect food and water security and have a serious economic impact.

"Around 12 million hectares of land are lost each year to degradation,” said Achim Steiner, administrator of UNDP in a statement. "In addition to harming the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, land degradation costs more than 10 percent of annual global GDP in lost ecosystem."

The world as we know it could change right before our very eyes. Biodiversity loss is projected to reach between 38 and 46 percent by this time. Scientists say a “middle of the road” scenario would see a complete loss of original biodiversity of an area about 1.5 times the size of the US. And whether you’ve realized it or not, the world has been transforming for the last few decades.

Less than 25 percent of the Earth’s land surface remains free from human impact. Between 1970 and 2012, the average population size of wild terrestrial vertebrates dropped by 38 percent and freshwater species by 81 percent. Wetlands have been hit the hardest: 87 percent of their biodiversity have been lost in the last 300 years, 54 percent of that since 1900.

Scientists blame a lack of awareness for increasing degradation, but say hope is on the horizon as long as we act fast. From more efficient urban planning and planting practices to collaboration with indigenous and local communities, the report outlines a number of ways to slow land degradation.

This is the fifth and final report from the Science and Policy for People and Nature conference. It will be published later this year

Worsening land degradation caused by human activities is undermining the well-being of two-fifths of humanity, driving species extinctions and intensifying climate change. Blanscape/Shutterstock

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