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Journal article

How to halt the global decline of lands

The assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) shows that land degradation across the globe is a wide and severe issue and is showing no signs of slowing down. This trend must be halted and reversed.

Toby Gardner / Published on 12 February 2020

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Willemen, L., Barger, N. N., Brink, B. ten, Cantele, M., Erasmus, B. F. N., Fisher, J. L., Gardner, T., Holland, T. G., Kohler, F., Kotiaho, J. S., von Maltitz, G. P., Nangendo, G., Pandit, R., Parrotta, J. A., Potts, M. D., Prince, S. D., Sankaran, M., Brainich, A., Montanarella, L. and Scholes, R. (2020). How to halt the global decline of lands. Nature Sustainability. 1–3.

The findings of the Land Degradation and Restoration assessment – and equally alarming evidence presented by the IPBES Global Assessment and IPCC Special Report on Land, showing the interlinkages between land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss – are not news to researchers or well-informed citizens.

The IPBES assessment also provides evidence that land degradation is avoidable and, in many instances, reversible. Given that land degradation is typically local, visible and immediate, why has the issue failed to attract global attention in a similar way to climate change?

This article sets out five systemic reasons for this:

  • land degradation is perceived radically differently by different people
  • there is little agreement on standardized ways of measuring land degradation
  • the profound disconnect between causes and consequences makes the impact of land degradation invisible to many
  • land degradation is driven by a multiplicity of interacting forces -natural, cultural, demographic, economic, educational, technological, and political- that interact through time at local to global scales and are hard to tease apart, and
  • institutional competence and motivation have hampered necessary action.

What can be done? The authors set out 10 strategies for overcoming these systemic barriers, and suggest who is best placed to take a leading role in carrying them out.

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SEI author

Toby Gardner
Toby Gardner

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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Topics and subtopics
Land : Land use, Ecosystems / Economy : Supply chains
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