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“Critical” levels of land degradation intensifying climate change

Press release

Land degradation due to human activities is a major contributor to climate change, creating a sixth mass extinction and undermining the wellbeing of two-fifths of humanity.

These are the stark warnings from a global scientific assessment report on land degradation and restoration, published on 26 March 2018, which states that deforestation alone is contributing about 10% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Another major driver of the changing climate has been the release of carbon previously stored in the soil, with land degradation responsible for annual global emissions of up to 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2000 and 2009.

The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) report is the result of a three-year assessment by over 100 leading experts from 45 countries. The Priestley Centre’s Prof Lindsay Stringer was one of the academics involved in it as a lead author.

Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global direct driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. This has reached ‘critical’ levels in many parts of the world, the report says, with at least 3.2 billion people likely to be negatively impacted.

Underlying drivers of land degradation are high-consumption lifestyles in the most developed economies, combined with rising consumption in developing and emerging economies.

The report follows the publication of four regional assessments by IPBES of biodiversity and ecosystem services (23 March), on which Prof Stringer was also a coordinating lead author for Africa. Set against a picture of global biodiversity decline, the Africa assessment showed that human induced and natural causes are devastating its wildlife, with the loss of more than half of African bird and mammal species projected by 2100 due to climate change.

Approximately 500,000 square km of African land is already estimated to have been degraded by overexploitation of natural resources, erosion, salinization and pollution. Even greater pressure will be placed on the continent’s biodiversity as the current African population of 1.25 billion people is set to double to 2.5 billion by 2050.

Speaking about the two reports, Lindsay Stringer said: “The worrying trends in biodiversity and ecosystem service decline in Africa has profound impacts on the development paths that African countries can take. In the context of climate change projections, governments and other stakeholders need to act now in order to reverse these trends, particularly if food and water supplies are to be sustained and if we are to make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The good news is that the reports highlight various ways forward for both tackling land degradation, restoring degraded land and reducing the loss and decline of important species. Many of these actions can deliver benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation as well”.

Watch a video of the land degradation report’s findings