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Part One: The Big Picture

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The current pressures on land are huge and expected to continue growing: there is rapidly escalating competition between the demand for land functions that provide food, water, and energy, and those services that support and regulate all life cycles on Earth.

A significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading: over the last two decades, approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated surface shows persistent declining trends in productivity, mainly as a result of land/water use and management practices.

Biodiversity loss and climate change further jeopardize the health and productivity of land: higher carbon emissions and temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, soil erosion, species loss and increased water scarcity will likely alter the suitability of vast regions for food production and human habitation. Land degradation decreases resilience to environmental stresses: increased vulnerability, especially of the poor, women and children, can intensify competition for scarce natural resources and result in migration, instability, and conflict.

Over 1.3 billion people are trapped on degrading agricultural land: farmers on marginal land, especially in the drylands, have limited options for alternative livelihoods and are often excluded from wider infrastructure and economic development. The scale of rural transformation in recent decades has been unprecedented: millions of people have abandoned their ancestral lands and migrated to urban areas, often impoverishing cultural identity, abandoning traditional knowledge, and permanently altering landscapes

Part One looks at the big picture both in space and time, with a brief history of land use. It examines the drivers of degradation and land use change, and details the current pressures on land resources. It also looks at the impacts that land degradation can have on the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of our lives.

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