17 Jun 2015 Press release Sustainable Development Goals

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

Nairobi, 17 June 2015- The theme for this year's World Day to Combat Desertification is an articulate and timely call to action to conserve soil and ensure the sustenance of a growing population.

Today, around one quarter of the world's total land area is affected by desertification, thus adversely impacting the lives and livelihoods of close to one sixth of the global population.

Healthy soils form the basis for our food production systems. Without healthy soils it is not possible to produce healthy food. Healthy also soils filter rainwater rendering it drinkable; they regulate climate by providing the largest carbon sinks and storing more carbon than all forests put together; and they sustain biodiversity as two-thirds of all known species live on land.

According to UNEP's International Resource Panel, 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.

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.

In dryland ecosystems, which cover approximately 40 per cent of the world's land area and support two billion people, 90 per cent of whom live in developing countries, the challenges are made even more complex by the impacts of climate change.

Another important issue underlying a more sustainable approach to managing drylands and combating desertification is the promotion of better land tenure and governance. With clearer tenure, small-holder farmers and pastoralists around the world can have a sound basis on which to invest in their land, including communal lands, and preserve its health and productivity in the longer term - thus ensuring food security and climate resilience for both rural and urban population for generations to come.

By striving for drylands development, we can reverse and prevent desertification and land degradation, reduce poverty and support environmental sustainability.

UNEP works closely with a wide range of partners in supporting the objectives of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification ( www.unccd.int).

Examples of UNEP's work to combat desertification:

  • In line with the objectives of the UNCCD, the Rio+20 Summit and the "future we want" document, UNEP supports a better understanding and uptake of the Landscape Approach through a portfolio of UNEP and GEF-funded projects under its "ecosystem management of productive landscapes" programme, which is also linked to the 10 Year Framework for Sustainable Production and Consumption to promote more sustainable food systems.
  • UNEP is engagement with a wide range of partners through the 'landscapes for people food and nature' initiative (LPFN - www.peoplefoodandnature.org) - promoting integrated landscape management approaches to sustain food security, including in arid lands.

- A recent report released by UNEP and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlights pastoralism's role in safeguarding natural capital across a quarter of the world's land area (see www.unep.org/publications). The report finds that sustainable pastoralism on rangeland ecosystems - such as desert grasslands, woodlands and steppes - maintains soil fertility and soil carbon and contributes to water regulation and biodiversity conservation. It also provides other goods such as high-value food products.