Up to 849 million hectares of natural land – nearly the size of Brazil – may be degraded by 2050 should current trends of unsustainable land use continue, warns a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The need to feed a growing number of people globally has led to more land being converted to cropland at the expense of the world’s savannah, grassland and forests.
This has resulted in widespread environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, affecting an estimated 23 per cent of global soil.
Agriculture currently consumes more than 30 per cent of the world’s land area, and cropland covers around 10 per cent of global land.
Between 1961 and 2007, cropland expanded by 11 per cent, a trend that continues to grow.
The report, entitled Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply, was produced by the International Resource Panel: a consortium of 27 internationally renowned resource scientists, 33 national governments and other groups, hosted by UNEP.
UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “The findings of the International Resource Panel show that the world has witnessed an unprecedented sharp decline in terrestrial ecosystem services and functions during the past decades. Forests and wetlands have been converted to agricultural land to feed growing populations but at a cost that is not sustainable.”
“Recognizing that land is a finite resource, we need to become more efficient in the ways we
“Recommendations from the report are meant to inform policy and contribute to on-going discussions on targets and indicators for sustainable resources management as the world charts a new course for sustainable development post-2015, ” he added. produce, supply and consume our land-based products. We must be able to define and adhere to the boundaries within which the world can safely operate to save millions of hectares by 2050,” he said.
It focuses on land-based products, such as food, fuel and fibre, and describes methods to enable countries to determine whether their consumption levels exceed sustainable supply capacities.The report outlines the need and options to balance consumption with sustainable production.
At the same time it distinguishes between gross and net expansion of cropland.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, the net expansion of cropland will range from 120 to 500 million hectares by 2050.
Shifts to more protein-rich diets in developing countries and a growing demand for biofuels and biomaterials, especially in developed countries, are increasing the demand for land.