There are some things that you can’t put a price tag on – and nature is one of them. Unfortunately, in today’s society value is only understood if it is expressed in currency. This might have been a reason for the United Nations University to try to quantify the losses we suffer each year due to land degradation. Their numbers are amazing – according to their recently released report, the world’s loses ecosystem worth up to $10.6 trillion each year. That’s equal to around 1 million Vegas Palms online casino jackpots, or up to 17 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
According to the report, more than half of the world’s agricultural land is severely degraded. But world degradation is about a lot more than just agriculture. Soil is the second largest carbon sink of the planet, while agriculture and land use changes represent the second largest source of green house gases. These two are closely related, the report states. But the effect of land degradation transcend global warming and agriculture as a whole. It also threatens the livelihood of large masses of people, and could trigger a new mass migration.
The report predicts that land degradation might force up to 50 million people to leave the most affected areas. Does that mean more migrants? According to a UN estimate, about 74% of the poor – 42% of the very and 32% of the moderately poor – are directly affected by land degradation globally. Desertification may drive millions of people from their home land. Women and children will be the most affected by desertification and land degradation, the UN study states, as they bear its burden directly, being the last to leave their land.
The study authors have calculated the cost of the “lost ecosystem services value” our planet has suffered in the last decade and a half. According to their calculations, the loss due to land degradation averages US $43,400 to $72,000 per square km, some US $870 to $1,450 per person, globally each year. The percentage of the world’s land affected by land degradation has grown a lot in the last decades – it has doubled between the late 1970s and the early 2000s. And the process is far from its end.
“This study by ELD shows the immediate and global impact of land degradation and highlights that actions to tackle it pay off,” Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs commented on the paper.
“Increased land degradation is also one of the factors that can lead to migration and it is being exacerbated by climate change. On our planet, the area affected by drought has doubled in 40 years. One third of Africa is threatened by desertification. As President Juncker said in his State of the Union speech last week, climate refugees will become a new challenge – if we do not act swiftly.”
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