It is clear that unsustainable human activities put land at risk and at the same time threaten the ecosystem services on which all humanity depends. There is enormous pressure on global land resources due to rising food demand, a global shift in dietary habits, biofuel production, urbanization, and other competing demands. Landfills, mining, and other extraction activities also contribute to the pressure on land resources. Hence, healthy and productive land is becoming scarce.
Chapter 4: Convergence of Evidence
In the past, land degradation maps have been controversial; their value questioned due to the multifaceted nature of the phenomenon, the complexity of processes involved, and the difficulty of interpretation at a global scale. However, progress in the last two decades has improved the accuracy of this type of analysis.
The World Atlas of Desertification (WAD), a project coordinated by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission with collaboration of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), looks beyond conventional desertification analyses to consider, more generally, the status and trends in global anthropogenic land change processes, with an emphasis on croplands and rangelands.
The WAD implements a systematic and transparent framework to trace where the main human-environment processes and interactions coincide. It highlights areas and possible pathways of land degradation as well as responses including the protection, sustainable management, and restoration of land resources.
After summarizing some of the key findings of the WAD, this chapter concludes by contrasting current status and trends in land productivity dynamics with some of the goods and services that widespread land degradation will put at risk. This includes:
- Food security
- Water security
- Physical and mental health
- Disaster risk reduction
- Mitigating and adapting to climate change
- Cultural values
- Tourism including particularly ecotourism
- Raw materials.