(ANTIMEDIA) — According to the world’s first evidence-based assessment of the state of the planet’s land health, more than 75 percent of the Earth’s soil surface has substantially degraded, putting the well-being of some 3.2 billion people at risk.
The exhaustive assessment, published Monday, concludes that “rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands” is the primary driver of land degradation. The problem has already reached “critical” levels in many parts of the world, the report says.
Researchers found that “the high-consumption lifestyles in the most developed economies, combined with rising consumption in developing and emerging economies” are leading to “unsustainable levels of agricultural expansion, natural resource and mineral extraction, and urbanization.”
Professor Robert Scholes, the co-chair of the IPBES report, states that “the degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction” and that reversing this trend is an “urgent priority” to “ensure human well-being.”
If the trend isn’t reversed, researchers concluded, 95 percent of the Earth’s lands could be degraded by 2050, potentially forcing up to 700 million people to migrate in search of better food and water resources.
Wetlands, in particular, are suffering, with an 87 percent loss globally over the past 300 years. Of that loss, 54 percent has occurred since the year 1900, researchers found.
In all, less than one-quarter of the planet’s land surface remains free of human impact. By 2050, however, that figure is estimated to drop to below 10 percent. Most of this unspoiled land will be in “deserts, mountainous areas, tundra and polar areas unsuitable for human use or settlement,” the IPBES report states.
Researchers say one of the biggest barriers to action — reversing the trend — is ignorance. Simply not enough people are aware of this troubling situation. But raising awareness in itself could prove tricky. As the report notes:
“Many of those who benefit from overexploitation of natural resources are among the least affected by the direct negative impacts of land degradation, and therefore have the least incentive to take action.”
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