Land degradation will unleash a mass migration of at least 50 million people by 2050 — as many as 700 million — unless humans stop depleting the life-giving resources, scientists warned yesterday in the first-ever analysis of the health of land around the globe and its ability to human beings.
The Land Degradation and Restoration Assessment Report, which was compiled at the request of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, was released in Medellin, Colombia, after it was approved by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
It took more than 100 volunteer scientists from around the globe three years to compile, analyzing all the available scientific data.
Already, land decay caused by unsustainable farming, mining, pollution, and city expansion is undermining the well-being of about 3.2 billion people — 40 percent of the global population, they said.
The condition of land is “critical,” IPBES said.
“We’ve converted large amounts of our forests, we’ve converted large amounts of our grasslands, we’ve lost 87 percent of our wetlands ... we’ve really changed our land surface in the last several hundred years,” IPBES chairman Robert Watson said of the findings.
“The message is: land degradation, loss of productivity of those soils and those vegetations will force people to move. It will be no longer viable to live on those lands,” he said.
“Between now and 2050, we estimate the number could be 50 [million] to some 700 million people,” he said, adding that the lowest number was a best-case-scenario projection.
It assumes “we’re actually starting to be much more sustainable, we’ve really tried hard to have sustainable agricultural practices, sustainable forestry, we’ve tried to minimize climate change,” he said.
The upper end of the range is based on a “business-as-usual” approach, he added.
The main drivers of land degradation were “high-consumption lifestyles” in rich countries, and rising demand for products in developing ones, fueled by income and population growth, the report said.
The problem of land decay does not only impact the people who live on it, but threatens food security for all Earth’s citizens, as well as access to clean water and breathable air regulated by the soil and the plants that grow on it, the report said.
The analysis estimated that land degradation cost the equivalent of 10 percent of global economic output in 2010.
In 30 years from now, an estimated 4 billion people — about 40 percent of the projected population by then — will live in “dryland” areas, arid and semi-arid places with low agriculture productivity, the report said, compared with just over 3 billion today.
“Implementing the right actions to combat land degradation can transform the lives of millions of people across the planet, but this will become more difficult and more costly the longer we take to act,” Watson said.
The land degredation report follows four reports the IPBES released on Friday the state of plant and animal species, which concluded that biodiversity was in decline in all regions.
Of concern to nations in Asia and the Pacific was that if current fishing practices continue, there will be no exploitable fish stocks in the region by 2048.
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