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Combating Desertification and Drought

Landmark UN Report Issues Stark call for Sustainable Land Management to Save Human Health

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s Global Land Outlook warns that only through protection of existing ecosystems and revival of degraded lands and soils will biodiversity loss be halted and pandemic-risk reduction be achieved.

The protected Kent Falls and Park in Connecticut, USA. GLO2 report calls on governments to create parks and restore wetlands to enhance citizens' quality of life. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

DOMINICA, Apr 27 2022 (IPS) - With 50% of humanity affected by land degradation, the world must move to a ‘crisis footing’ to conserve, restore and use land resources sustainably, a major UN report has said.

Released on April 27, the landmark Global Land Outlook by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification provides a sobering account of the state of the earth’s land and calls for ambitious plans for sustainable land use to protect human health.

Compiled over five years, in collaboration with 21 partner organizations, the report is considered the most comprehensive meta-analysis of land issues to date. Known as GLO2, it builds on the 2017 land outlook report, which assessed the consequences of deforestation and widespread unsustainable agricultural practices on human and ecosystem health, food security and stable livelihoods.

“We have already degraded nearly 40 % and altered 70% of the land. We cannot afford to have another “lost decade” for nature and need to act now for a future of life in harmony with nature. The GLO2 shows pathways, enablers and knowledge that we should apply to effectively implement the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework,” said Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity

With a reminder that land is a finite resource, the report warns that current management and use are escalating the risk of ‘widespread, abrupt and irreversible environmental changes.’

It also focuses heavily on solutions – particularly land, soil, forest and other ecosystems protection and restoration.

“The report is highlighting the importance of protecting remaining tropical forests, especially of managing wildlife and biodiversity in a much more careful way, protecting and restoring to recover from some of the damage that has been done. It highlights the enormous opportunity globally for restoration of landscapes around the world, the potential for that to contribute to improving the production of food, protection of biodiversity, storage of carbon and the provision of livelihoods. There are enormous employment opportunities related to those activities, and in turn help to make our economies more resilient,” Tropical Forest Ecologist Dr Nigel Sizer told IPS.

Sizer, who is the Executive Director of Preventing Pandemics at the Source Coalition, says the report gives the world the wake-up call it needs to take urgent action to end forest destruction and protect human health.

“Our relationship with nature is so broken. We have heard a lot about climate change and the extinction of animal and plant species. What people did not realize so much is that pandemics are primarily a result of spillover viruses from wildlife, often related to the trade in wildlife species, deforestation and other exploitative aspects of our relationship with nature. This report highlights the massive amount of land degradation, forest loss and loss of biodiversity that is going on globally, and provides a very important call to address those challenges, especially to governments,” he said.

The GLO2 is calling for increasingly ambitious land restoration targets, with the largest emitters of greenhouse gases helping developing countries to restore their land resources.

“As a global community, we can no longer rely on incremental reforms within traditional planning and development frameworks to address the profound development and sustainability challenges we are facing in coming decades. A rapid transformation in land use and management practices that place people and nature at the center of our planning is needed, prioritizing job creation and building vital skill sets while giving voice to women and youth who have been traditionally marginalized from decision making,” said Nichole Barger, report steering committee member, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado.

Sizer agrees.

“We urgently need to see governments committed to protecting what’s left to restore a lot of what has been lost in terms of tree cover forests, wetlands, freshwater systems, coastal ecosystems. This is absolutely key for protecting our food production systems, restoring the soil and providing livelihoods, particularly in rural communities,” he told IPS.

The GLO2 has been released in what is expected to be a watershed year for action on land and biodiversity issues, including the hosting of the 15th Session of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP 15), scheduled for May 9-20 in Côte d’Ivoire. That event is expected to focus on reviving global degraded lands and soils.

“As we come out of the pandemic, building back after the economic impact that this has had as well as the opportunity to create lots of jobs by restoring nature and managing the land and in a more responsible way is a great opportunity to stimulate economies to achieve more sustainability, and recover more quickly from this pandemic as well as reduced the risk of future pandemics,” said Sizer.

And what does failure to act mean?

According to the GLO2, by 2050 an additional area the size of South America will be degraded if the world continues along the current trajectory.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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