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UN calls on Europe to curb its very large land footprint

​16/11/212 - Following an afternoon session of the European Parliament yesterday on the issue of land and soil degradation, the Environment Directorate-General of the European Commission today held a conference titled, 'Land and soil degradation post Rio+20' in Brussels, and issued a declaration.

Delivering the keynote address in Brussels titled “Fostering the future we want: charting a path to a land-degradation neutral world”, Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary, quantified each individual’s land footprint. He presented the idea of land-degradation neutrality as a solution to the problem, specifying its meaning and the role that the European Union could play to make it a reality.

“We are at a crossroads where opting for business as usual, in how we manage our productive lands and our fertile soils, will become a major risk for the European Union and for the world. Or, the EU can lead the change towards a land-degradation neutral world. Going land-degradation neutral is about all of us -  governments, business societies - becoming stewards of our productive lands & fertile soil,” Mr. Gnacadja said.

In particular, he drew attention to the Union’s very large “land footprint” of about 1.3 hectares per capita, compared to countries like China and India where it is 0.4 hectares, citing a study by the Vienna-based Sustainable Europe Research Institute. “Europe ‘imports’ 58% of the land it uses from outside the region,” he said, and called on the region to act on it.

Citing recent scientific findings that between 28-75 Gigatons of soil are lost for good on agricultural land, Mr. Gnacadja said each person leaves a land footprint of between 4-10 tons of soil per year or “eats 4-10 tons of soil… It has been estimated that urbanization is taking 3 million ha of prime land out of production every year.”

The 2012 national reports show that 167 countries are affected by desertification, more than the number of the countries that viewed themselves as affected in 1994, when the Convention was negotiated.  Of the affected countries today, 13 are in Europe, about half its membership.

Stressing the wide range of impacts associated with desertification, Mr. Gnacadja rhetorically posed, “in the face of those impacts who could stand non-affected?”
The Conference is one in a flurry of conferences taking place this and next week to explore the burning question of land and soil degradation. A two-day International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands (FSDL) convened by Qatar and attended by 13 ministers ended yesterday with the Doha Declaration.

The 4th international conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the first substantive gathering of experts to discuss the concept of land-degradation neutrality post-Rio+20 also ended yesterday in Israel. The subject will be taken up again next week at the Global Soil Week in Berlin.

Since Rio in 1992, we have learned that “land degradation is drying up the future we want” and the outcomes of the Rio + 20 Conference this June offer a way out by becoming “a land-degradation neutral world,” he added.

“Land-degradation neutrality refers to a global shift in land stewardship such that degradation of new areas is avoided, and unavoidable degradation is offset by rehabilitating at least an equal amount of already degraded land in the same (time) span and in the same landscape or at least in the same ecosystem,” he said.

The Europe Union could make this a reality by “first and foremost walking the talk domestically…. Second, the EU could champion the global operationalization of land-degradation neutrality,” he said.

On operationalizing land-degradation neutrality, he reported that the land rush is gathering pace, with the most productive but highly vulnerably land in the drylands as the primary target, particularly in Africa.

He traced this movement to the issues of poverty, forced migration and conflict and drew attention to successful but low-scale projects that the EU needs to promote – scaling up and scaling out – through international development.

“As the world’s largest ‘donor’, Europe has an interest and a responsibility to work with partners to support an inclusive approach to holistic governance of the land, to support its development partners to go land-degradation neutral. Land, after all, is the basis for food, energy and water security and poverty reduction. In this inclusive approach, the UNCCD explicitly identifies women as key actors and agents of change,” he said.

Meantime, the Doha Declaration from the international conference held in Qatar reflects the consensus on the actions to be carried out to combat food and water insecurity in the dry lands.

It calls for an increase in the investments for agriculture and rural development by allocating 10% of the national budgets to the implementation of the outcomes of the declaration. It supports Qatar’s initiative to set up a Global Dry Land Initiative, and calls for the creation of a mechanism to monitor and evaluate the Declaration.

Next week during the Global Soil Week in Berlin, the issues of soil and land degradation will be discussed on Tuesday afternoon, 20 November and all day Wednesday, 21 November. Discussion is based on a technical paper prepared by Dr Lindsay Stringer, University of Leeds, is also available online.

To download the paper, follow this link:
To participate in the Global Soil Week event on Zero-Net Land Degradation, contact: Ms. Charlotte Beckh at:

On media matters, contact: Mr. Steffen Heinzelmann and Ms. Madelon Fleminger at:, tel: +49 (0)331 2882 2340

For interviews on site with the team from the UNCCD Secretariat, contact:
Katya Arapnakova, +49-(0)173 268 7593 or email:
Wagaki Mwangi,

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