Davos: counting the cost of land degradation and taking action

Press Release

Bonn, Germany, 11 February 2011 – Winston Churchill once said: “If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory.”

This might be the fate of humanity, unless the global community begins to take economic account of the global costs of desertification, land degradation and drought, according to Mr. Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

A meaningful assessment must go beyond an analysis of the social and economic costs of use, and include the costs of inaction as well, he said. Mr. Gnacadja made the remarks in a keynote speech at the Global Risk Forum Davos during the World Economic Forum held on 26-30 January 2011.

Noting that the “`Davos Forum’ is where great minds gather every year to consult on how to set and maintain the world economy on a pathway to sustainable growth and where world leaders come in search of new thinking,” he said “Davos is the right place to share views on why the international community needs to conduct a global assessment of the economics of desertification, land degradation and drought.”

According to Mr. Gnacadja, the first and only global assessment of land degradation was conducted in 1992 by the United Nations Environment Programme. At the time, expert opinion suggested that the loss of crop and livestock productivity associated with land degradation amounted to US$42 billion. A year ago, a study sponsored by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment estimated that the mismanagement of soil biodiversity is in excess of US$1 trillion per year.

As a first step towards such an assessment, Mr Gnacadja reported that the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation is supporting the preparation of a meta-analysis to take stock of existing studies in order to evaluate gaps as well as options for conducting such a study. He also reported that there are many places in the world with success stories waiting to be scaled up and disseminated to prevent land degradation and reclaim land, but wondered why investments for these activities are limited.

During the occasion, he and Dr. Walter Ammann, President of the Swiss-based foundation, Global Risk Forum (GRF), signed a cooperative framework between their two institutions to address the global threat of desertification, land degradation and drought. The Memorandum of Understanding outlines several areas of cooperation, including strengthening local governance and enabling sustainable financial investments in specific projects on desertification, land degradation and drought.

To read the full statement by Mr. Gnacadja, visit:

For media information, contact:
Wagaki Mwangi
UNCCD Secretariat Bonn
Email: wmwangi@unccd.int
Tel: +49 228 815 2820