Wildlife & Biodiversity

World lost 87 per cent wetlands in 300 years

Rapid urban expansion one of the major reasons behind land degradation, says a global report

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Tuesday 27 March 2018

The report highlights rapid urban expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands as the main reasons for this. Credit: IPBESThe world has lost 87 per cent of its wetlands in the past 300 years, says a study on land degradation released at the sixth plenary session of Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in Colombia on Monday (March 26).

The report highlights rapid urban expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands as the main reasons for this. “Avoiding, reducing and reversing this problem, and restoring degraded land, is an urgent priority to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to all life on Earth,” says Luca Montanarella, a co-chair from Italy at the event. “Wetlands have been particularly hard hit. We have seen losses of 87 per cent wetland areas since the start of the modern era,” she adds.

The estimated economic cost of biodiversity and ecosystem services lost because of land degradation is more than 10 per cent of annual global gross product. “The negative impacts are affecting at least 3.2 billion people,” says Robert Scholes, co-chair from South Africa.

The report adds that consumers benefiting from the overexploitation of natural resources are the ones least affected by land degradation, and therefore, have no reason to take action. For example, take the case of mining metal. It is extracted from one region and the end user is in another region. It’s the people in the mining area who are affected and the end user is least affected.

If necessary steps are not taken, the study projects that by 2050, land degradation and climate change are likely to force 50 to 700 million people to migrate. Montanarella adds: “By 2050, land degradation and climate change will together reduce global crop yields by an average of 10% and in some regions by up to 50%. In the future, most degradation will occur in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia — areas that still have a lot of land suitable for agriculture.”

The report adds that the capacity of grazing lands to support livestock will continue to diminish, and thus, impact livestock diversity.

Measures suggested by experts:

  • Further agricultural expansion could be avoided by intensifying crop yields in existing farmlands. This can be achieved by switching to sustainable agriculture practices.
  • Indigenous and local communities should have key roles to play in decision making to conserve local lands.
  • Urban planning needs to be structured better and more native species of plants need to be planted.

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