A Better World - Volume 4

[ ]2 A B et t er W or ld Life on Land — An introduction to Goal 15 Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) T he United Nations will review progress, up to 2030, made by countries towards the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015. Each year, a few of these goals will be reviewed to assess progress and maintain momentum. Goal 15, Life on Land, will be reported on for the first time in 2018, and every four or five years thereafter, as determined by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (DESA). Goal 15 is concerned with change in four key areas: degrada- tion of forests, degradation of the land, the loss of biological diversity and the degradation of mountains. It calls on governments to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; to sustainably manage forests; to combat desertification; and to halt and reverse land degra- dation and halt biodiversity loss. Target 15.3 is one of ten under Goal 15, with a focus on combating desertification and land degradation as well as mitigating the effects of drought. 1 Why combat land degradation by 2030? Global assessments show that land degradation has diverse and perverse impacts on all facets of life, and that preventing or reversing land degradation can advance the achievement of the other 16 goals. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005 concludes that the world’s dry areas are home to over 2 billion people, and that 20 per cent of this ecosystem is degraded 2 . In 2017, The Global Land Outlook found that 24 million tonnes of fertile soil is being lost every year, and that, from 1993 to 2013, signs of declining vegetation were evident on approxi- mately 16 per cent of all land on Earth. From 2000 to 2012, about 2.3 million km 2 of forest cover was lost, but only 0.8 million km 2 was reforested 3 . The Thematic Assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration released recently observed that 75 per cent of global land area is degraded, and over 90 per cent could become degraded by 2050 if we continue with business as usual. It warns that land degradation and climate change could lead to a 10 per cent reduction in food produc- tion by 2050. 4 According to the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) assessment, more than one third of the global rural population is located in agricultural lands or areas that are degrading or that have low productivity or market access. 5 The effects of land degradation impact at least 3.2 billion people worldwide — nearly half of the global population. 6 In one of the earliest economic assessments of the impact of land degradation, in 1992, UN Environment Programme esti- mated that desertification and land degradation were costing the international community up to US$42 billion. A 2013 study of the rewards of investing in sustainable land management, titled ELD Initiative, shows that preventing and/or reversing land degradation through sustainable land management could deliver up to US$1.4 trillion in increased production. 7 While we know more about the direct impacts of land degradation, the indirect impacts on human well-being through ecosystem degradation are less understood and investigated. The World Atlas on Desertification released in 2018 concludes that some recurring global issues, such as global surface and ground water, have an alarming urgency that was not known 20 years ago. 8 However, there is growing evidence that, if land degrada- tion can be both reduced now and avoided in future and the health of degraded land is restored, communities everywhere will thrive. They will have access to clean water, and produce more crops that can create reliable, paying jobs in rural areas. Food harvests will increase where hunger persists. The gasses warming the Earth can be restored to the ground. In Turkey, children are introduced at an early age to the ways of managing land sustainably. It is the only country in the world with a law on soil treatment Image: Fikret Özkaplan