Climate Change

Reverse land use change to prevent zoonoses like COVID-19: UNCCD

Land use degradation creates ground for zoonotic disease like COVID-19 as the interaction and physical distance between animals and humans gets closer

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 16 June 2020
Land use change creates the ground for zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 as the interaction and physical distance between animals and humans gets closer. Photo: Flickr

Land use change, which prepares the ground for zoonoses like the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), should be reversed urgently, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has said.

Over 70 per cent of all natural, ice-free land in the world is affected by human use, according to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“In a short space of time, COVID-19, a zoonotic disease, led to the worst economic crisis since the Second World War. A majority of the countries went into lockdown for two months, on average,” Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary, UNCCD, said in a statement.

“The global economy is heading for a recession and social relations are changing. The urgency both at the policy and practical levels to slow down and reverse land use change cannot be overstated,” he added.

In depthHow desertification threatens most of India

This could further rise to 90 per cent by 2050, if global land use follows the same path. This land degradation affects some 3.2 billion people worldwide.

The failure to slow and reverse the process of land use change may come at a very high cost in the future, Thiaw said. “It is in our interest, therefore, to ensure that as part of building back better, we take steps to help nature recover so that it works with and for, not against us,” he added.   

Investing in the over 4 million square kilometres (sq km) land earmarked for restoration will help to build back better and safeguard our relationship with nature, the statement said.

Agricultural land for food, animal feed and fibre is behind the land use change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate change and land. By 2050, over 500 mha of new agricultural land will be needed to meet the global food demand, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Ecosystem services worth $10.6 trillion are lost due to land degradation annually, according to a study by the Economics of Land Degradation initiative that came out in 2015. By contrast, switching to sustainable land management practices could deliver up to $1.4 trillion in increased crop production, it had said.

“In the largest-ever global restoration initiative, in the last five years, close to 100 countries have earmarked areas for repair and restoration by 2030,” UNCCD said.

“A preliminary analysis shows over 400 mha earmarked under this initiative, which is about 80 per cent of the agricultural land required to meet global food demand by 2050. The restoration of these areas as part of building back better to avoid future zoonosis would bring other crucial benefits, particularly mitigating climate change,” it added.

June 17 is observed worldwide as the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought and this year’s ‘global observance event’ is being hosted virtually by Korea Forest Service. 

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