UN warns of land-use crisis

7th February 2014

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Ground ,
  • Minimisation ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems


Anna Hughes

Natural land covering an area 35 times larger than the UK may have to be converted to grow crops by 2050 unless agricultural practices and consumption patterns become more sustainable, warns UNEP in a new report on global land use

Experts from national governments and the scientific community took part in the study and conclude that growing demand for meat-rich diets, biofuels and fibres will increase need for land for agriculture and growing crops. This “land grab” will have a significant impact on biodiversity and soil quality, says the report, which notes that 23% of the world’s soils are already degraded.

“The world has witnessed a sharp decline in terrestrial ecosystems services and functions during the past decades. Forests and wetlands have been converted to agricultural land but at a cost that is not sustainable,” said UNEP’s Achim Steiner.

The study finds that more than 40% of the world’s land is given over to agricultural activities and cropland, and a further 849 million hectares of savannah, grasslands and forests will have been converted to grow food and fuel by 2050 if there is no action to improve land management, restore degraded soils and increase crop yields sustainably.

The recommendations in the report to prevent more land being used to grow food and fuel feedstocks include: ending subsidies for biofuels; taking action to prevent food waste and encouraging vegetarian diets; and improving land monitoring and planning processes to better protect high-value natural habitats.

Taking such actions will help to save 319 million hectares of land from degradation by 2050, according to the report. UNEP calculates that food creation should account for no more than 0.2 hectares per person in 2030 to protect ecosystems. In 2007, the food footprint of an EU citizen was more than 0.3 hectares.


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