UNCCD report assesses land degradation, links land quality to human well-being
Wed 11 Oct 2017
In a flagship publication released in September 2017, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) provides a comprehensive overview of the state of global land use, conversion and degradation. The 340-page Global Land Outlook (GLO) also identifies driving factors and analyses the impacts of current land conversion trends.
Among the key messages of the report are warnings about the speed and scale of rural transformation and our agricultural system. With our current focus on short-term production and profit over long-term environmental sustainability, industrial agricultural practices are diminishing our water, soil and forest resources. At the same time, the livelihoods of small-scale farmers are at risk due to a globalised food system that favours large-scale, highly mechanised agribusiness.
“It is much more cost-effective to start with a plan for a sustainable city than to try and retrofit one in the future.”
p. 290, GLO
Turning to the future, the authors provide reason for hope: with changes in consumer and corporate behaviour, we still have sufficient land available to meet demand. The question is: can we catalyse a shift from the current “age of plunder” toward an “age of respect” where we respect biophysical limits?
One of the six response pathways highlighted in the report is managing the rural-urban interface. Within the framework of increasing urbanisation, the authors warn of new challenges in rural-urban issues, but also new opportunities. In particular, preventing negative impacts of urban sprawl and infrastructure development are critical to ensure a sustainable future. Huge investments in infrastructure must be made to keep up with the current trend of urban growth. How these projects are implemented will determine long-term resource and land use trends.
The authors also call attention to the important role of all local governments in global land use management. While large cities with a long urban history, such as Paris or London, have already made decisions about their land and natural resource use, thousands of rapidly expanding cities will soon need to make decisions about transport policies, energy policies, and resource use. Planning authorities in these urban centres will play a pivotal role in shaping global land use in the coming decades.