The UN Convention against Desertification will publish a report on Thursday 27 April to take stock of land degradation in the world and propose solutions. Today, up to 40% of the ground surface has deteriorated. The researchers suggest several action scenarios in this report, published a few days before the desertification COP. The meeting of representatives of 197 states in Abidjan on 9 to 20 May will try to agree on the fight against land degradation on a global level.
Today, every second person suffers soil degradation, when the soil loses its ability to produce food, clean water or healthy habitats for humans and all biodiversity. As climate change and drought promise to exacerbate the situation, the second edition of the ‘Global Soil Outlook’ report aims to take an inventory and explore what the future has to offer.
After five years of research, researchers propose three action scenarios. The first, “business as usual”, projects us into 2050, as if nothing in our consumption and production patterns had changed. It is then to be expected that land degradation will gain ground, corresponding to the surface area of the South American continent would deteriorate. With a vicious circle of increasing world population, productivity, loss of soil fertility, erosion and greenhouse gas emissions.
Restore 5 billion hectares
In question, according to Ibrahim Thiaw, Secretary-General of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), our model of agriculture, for feeding people and livestock. “Up to 70% of the water used is for agricultural needs and 80% of deforestation is due to agriculture.” Human activity and urbanization are also a factor in land degradation, as are climate change and droughts, which will become more and more frequent and intense.
A second scenario for “recovery” is presented in the report. It proposes that 50 million km² of destroyed land be restored, or 35% of the earth’s surface. (Currently, states have committed to restore 10 million km 2 by 2030, equivalent to the area of the United States or China). The goal is to “restore natural environments, ensure better agricultural production and thus make the economy healthier”, explains Ibrahim Thiaw. By restoring the land, the earth actually becomes more fertile and it is a gain for the states’ GDP, according to him.
Migration crisis and water war
The third “conservation” scenario addresses the restoration program, but also aims at a massive creation of protected areas, corresponding to the area of India and Pakistan (4 million km²). “It is an ideal scenario” for Ibrahim Thiaw, as it would protect biodiversity, increase water resources, combat climate change and thus “solve some current global crises.” Studies link soil degradation to migration, he states. “When you have nothing left to produce at home, you have no choice but to migrate. Land degradation also has consequences for safety with usage conflicts between pastoralists and farmers. This is what we observe in the Sahel or in the Middle East with the struggle for access to water and arable land.
The authors of the report have therefore analyzed a hundred methods, different depending on location and context, to successfully restore already destroyed land. Agricultural forestry or soil management techniques in agriculture that allow production without harming ecosystems. Pastoralism with the intervention of water points in dry zones to limit erosion by preventing too many cattle from always trampling in the same place.
Implementing this change in production mode therefore requires significant resources. $ 1600 billion just to restore 10 million km² while the UN wants to rehabilitate five times more. “The important thing,” emphasizes the UNCCD Secretary-General, is that the report does not necessarily require public funds that should be transferred from north to south, as is often the case. ” These $ 1,600 billion, “are one-fifth of the subsidies allocated to fossil fuels and intensive agriculture” that lead to land degradation and climate change. According to Ibrahim Thiaw, “investment can be made in the countries of the north because land degradation affects the whole planet. The money can also be invested by the private sector, because it is the farmers who run the agriculture, not the governments. And it is rather an investment to return productivity to the land , to be able to produce again, for agriculture or ecotourism, etc. According to the report, an invested dollar generates between 7 and 30 dollars in income.
What remains is the necessary awareness and political will. The UNCCD report should really fuel the discussions during COP 15 (Conference of the Parties) dedicated to desertification, which will open on 9 May in Côte d’Ivoire.