It’s everybody’s business to put degraded lands back to life, UN says

Press Release

Our individual consumption and production choices have a lasting impact on land. Thus, restoring and protecting fragile areas is the responsibility of everyone who wants to eat, drink or breathe. Restoration of 150 million ha of degraded land can generate US$40 billion for small farmers and feed 200 million people. Agriculture and urbanization, the two new drivers of land degradation today also demand action.


Ankara, 17 June 2019. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for urgent action to protect and restore degrading land in a bid to reduce forced migration, improve food security, spur economic growth and help to address the global climate emergency. 

Noting that the world loses 24 billion tons of fertile soil and dryland degradation reduces national domestic product in developing countries by up to 8% annually, Guterres said much remains to be done, and stressed the imperative of combatting desertification as part of our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ibrahim Thiaw, head of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification – the world’s only agreement binding countries to tackle land degradation and desertification and to mitigate the effects of drought – said our simple, everyday choices have a huge and enduring impact on the land, climate and biodiversity. He called for quicker and smarter individual and professional choices, if we want our society, economy and environment to grow together. 

When only 20 per cent of the surface is habitable and one percent of freshwater is accessible to a global population that will reach nine billion in three decades, the simple, everyday choices we make to produce or consume goods ripple across our intricately interconnected lifestyles with incredibly long-term impacts, he stressed. 

Recent assessments show that one out of every four hectares of productive land has become unusable. Moreover, three out of every four hectares have been altered completely from their natural state. 

Under these conditions, Thiaw said increasing food production by 50 percent, when land degradation and climate change will be decreasing crop yields by 50 percent makes restoring and protecting the fragile layer of land an issue for “anyone who wants to eat, drink or breathe.” 

Thiaw made the call from Ankara, Turkey, during the global observance of the worldwide celebrations to mark both the 2019 World Day to Combat Desertification and 25 years of international cooperation in restoring and protecting productive land. 

World day to Combat Desertification is celebrated every year in every country on 17 June to promote good land stewardship for the benefit of present and future generations.

Turkey’s President Recepp Tayyip Erdogan presided over the global observance celebrations hosted by his government, and attended by ministers from 10 countries.

Some 196 countries and the European Union are parties to the Convention, of which 169 are affected by desertification, land degradation or drought. 

In 2015, the international community agreed to achieve a balance in the rate at which land is degraded and restored by taking concrete actions to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation, generally referred to as achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN), and mitigate the effects of drought.

n the last four years, 122 countries have committed to take voluntary, measurable actions to arrest land degradation by 2030. And 44 of the 70 countries that have suffered drought in the past have set up national plans to manage drought more effectively in the future. 

Whereas a significant amount of the land degradation and transformation has occurred over the last 50 years, Thiaw stressed that the success stories of land restoration and conservation, such as in Turkey’s Central Anatolia region, offer hope that change is possible when traditional knowledge, technology and faith communities come together creatively.
He said the restoration of 150 million hectares of farmland by 2030 can generate up to USD40 billion in extra income for smallholders, feed another 200 million people and sink several gigatons of carbon dioxide. Scaling it up across all our degraded land could prevent biodiversity and climate from disintegrating and bequeath new opportunities to the next generation, he added.

He warned, however, that urbanization is a growing challenge because half of the global population now lives in urban areas and consumes resources produced in an area 200 times the size of the city. What’s more, regions such as Asia and Africa could lose 80 percent of their cropland to cities. 

Restoring the two billion hectares of land that is already degraded would help meet that growing demand from urban areas and create sustainable jobs and stabilize vulnerable areas, he argued.

Thiaw said the actions taken by countries in the context of the Convention show that the world is determined to switch from destroying the Earth to making it productive enough to grow a better future for everyone by 2030.

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The UNCCD is an international agreement on good land stewardship. It helps people, communities and countries to create wealth, grow economies and secure enough food and water and energy, by ensuring land users have an enabling environment for sustainable land management. Through partnerships, the Convention’s 197 Parties set up robust systems to manage drought promptly and effectively. Good land stewardship based on a sound policy and science helps integrate and accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, builds resilience to climate change and prevents biodiversity loss.

Notes to Editors

Background information about the 2019 celebrations in Turkey and around the world are available here:
Factsheet: Summary of Recent Assessments of Land Degradation
Speech: Executive Secretary, UNCCD on the Occasion of World Day to Combat Desertification
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