Degraded lands are the center of much attention as global demands for food, feed and fuel continue to increase at unprecedented rates. Meanwhile, the agricultural land base needed for food production is shrinking in many parts of the world. To compensate, global agricultural operations for livestock, soybeans and palm oil have been converting the world’s tropical rainforests into farmland. The results have been devastating for people, planet and wildlife.
Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF), also referred to as forestry and other land use (FOLU) is one of the most urgent issues facing the planet. Land conversion is the single greatest cause of extinction of terrestrial species. Deforestation is one of the leading causes of global warming and climate change. Meanwhile, global warming is sparking more forest fires and larger forest fires. It feels like an Apocalypse is upon us.
The extent, and type of land use directly affects wildlife habitat and thereby impacts local and global biodiversity. Human alteration of landscapes from natural vegetation to any other use results in habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, all of which can have devastating effects on biodiversity.
Urban growth has become a problem for forests and agriculture, the expansion of structures prevents natural resources from producing in their environment.
In order to prevent the loss of wildlife, forests must maintain a stable climate and the land must remain undeveloped. Forests can be sustained by different forest management techniques such as reforestation and preservation. Reforestation is a reactive approach designed to replant trees that were previously logged within the forest boundary in attempts to re-stabilize this ecosystem. Preservation on the other hand is a proactive idea that promotes the concept of leaving the forest as is, without using this area for its ecosystem goods and services. Both of these methods to mitigate deforestation are being used throughout the world.
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the UN Decade On Ecosystem Restoration following a proposal for action by over 70 countries from all latitudes. The UN Decade is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future. That will include building political momentum for restoration as well as thousands of initiatives on the ground.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature. It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, and restore them to achieve global goals. Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.
The UN Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The goal is to meet the Bonn Challenge–the world’s largest voluntary forest landscape restoration initiative, which was launched in 2011. It is a global target to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands into restoration by 2020 and 350 million by 2030. The other goal is to salvage 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands, an area larger than India.
“Societies worldwide will need to be convinced of the global restoration imperative by rational economic argument, compassion for current and future generations, and an emotional connection to nature”, according to the authors of one article in the journal.
The Unasylva issue looks at prospects for meeting the Bonn Challenge and mechanisms for measuring and accelerating progress, and examines work going on in China, Kenya, Brazil, Madagascar, Cambodia and Sao Tome and Principe.
“There is a great opportunity for the Bonn Challenge process and its contributing regional platforms to provide a model for aspiring actors to embrace or reinforce restoration efforts in other ecosystems, such as wetlands and coral reefs,” senior officials at the International Union for Conservation of Nature said.
It also discusses how restoration work can be scaled up, including various initiatives that are underway to increase funding and boost local stakeholders and technical assistance.
Agricultural expansion into natural ecosystems leads to significant losses of ecosystem services, such as habitat necessary to maintain biodiversity, storage of carbon, flood mitigation, and soil and watershed protection.
There are many benefits to be achieved from the idealized vision of restoring degraded lands, especially when this could spare forests and avoid competition with food crops. However, this potential is often estimated using highly uncertain data. The risks of overestimating the availability and productive potential of these areas is severe, as it may divert attention from efforts to reduce waste or the demand for land-intensive commodities such as beef.
Lack of understanding of the location, area, and condition of degraded land is a significant roadblock to a more reality-based strategy. Estimates of potential production on degraded lands are lacking because of missing and often unreliable information. No clear consensus exists as to the extent of degraded land. There are few, if any, routine assessments of degradation at the country level that keep track of pre-existing or changing conditions, nor is there any agreement on how to conduct such assessments.
Defining land degradation is challenging, which contributes to variances in estimates. The term degradation is often used as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of land conditions, such as desertification, salinization, erosion, compaction, or encroachment of invasive species. There is consensus that degradation can be defined as a reduction in productivity of the land or soil due to human activity.
Another challenge is that lands with naturally low productivity, such as heathlands or naturally saline soils, may also be described as degraded. Challenges remain, but it’s clear that conservation and restoration are part of the solution.