The Land Degradation Crisis

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The Land Degradation Crisis

Land is the one resource that is truly finite. New sources of energy are constantly being discovered. Financial capital is continually growing. Human knowledge and talent are always expanding.

But there is only a limited amount of land on the planet. Specifically, according to the Nations Online Project, there are 57,268,900 square miles of land on Earth that is not covered by water.

Given the limited supply of this resource, it would seem to be of the utmost importance to protect it from any threats that would degrade its value. And yet, according to new research presented in the September 2015 report “The Value of Land” by The Economics of Land Degradation Initiative (ELD), more than half of the world’s agricultural land is moderately or severely degraded.1 Land degradation refers to a decrease in the quality of land through chemical deterioration, wind erosion, water erosion, drought, overgrazing by livestock, deforestation, or depletion of soil nutrients through poor farming practices.

The ELD Initiative report is the result of four years of research by thirty international research and policy institutes.

It found that the value of land is based on the “ecosystem services” it provides. This goes beyond the direct economic benefits it delivers through the harvesting of minerals, timber, and crops. Land also contributes to the economy through the indirect benefits that it provides humanity, including water filtration, nutrient cycling, species habitat, medicinal resources, climate regulation, recreation, tourism, and educational opportunities.

According to the report:

“Estimates of the extent of land degradation vary, but approximately one-third of the world’s arable land is thought to have been affected by degradation and desertification to date, indicating that it is widespread, on the rise, and occurring in all land cover types and agro-ecologies, and especially so in drylands. Many degrading practices can be linked to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ in which the demands of individual interest take precedence over shared, sustainable use of land resources, leading to its overexploitation. Land degradation jeopardizes ecosystem services globally, including agricultural products, clean air, fresh water, disturbance regulation, climate regulation, recreational opportunities, and fertile soils. Novel estimates from the ELD Initiative of the global loss of ecosystem service values place the cost between $6.3 trillion and $10.6 trillion annually.”

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