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JUST PUBLISHED : World Atlas of Desertification, 3rd edition, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2018

Twenty years have passed since the last atlas of desertification was published. Within that short period, enormous global changes have taken place
in terms of human expansion and the impact it had on the environment. Equally significant progress has been made in understanding the fundamentals of human-environment interactions. This has been made possible, in part, by the massive increase and growth in the accessibility of global and WAD3 thus begins at a very different place than WAD2 in terms of scientific information and understanding.

That said, the authors are also confronted by the rapidly growing appreciation of the complexity of the land degradation phenomenon and all the human factors that drive it and are derived from it. As a consequence, rather than attempting to produce a comprehensive global model that cannot deliver useful local or regional information, WAD3 offers an approach that accommodates and embraces these complexities and is intended to provide an information framework
from which to pursue solutions that fit specific local situations.

This third edition of the World Atlas of Desertification focuses on land degradation and global environmental change under five major subject headings:

  • Global Patterns of Human Domination. Highlighting the role of Homo sapiens as the major driving force of global environmental change;
  • Feeding a Growing Global Population. The ability to feed 10-12 billion humans by the end of the century is one of the great challenges facing humanity, creating enormous burdens on the land;
  • Limits to Sustainability. The Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” There are numerous obstacles that must be overcome to achieve this goal;
  • Converge of Evidence. Many of the anthropogenic-induced environmental changes can be measured and their combined effect are indicative of the multiple stresses humans exert on the land. WAD3 draws on this complexity by adopting the concept that evidence or signals from multiple sources may “converge,” thus leading to the development of testable hypotheses and/or conclusions that are supported by data. Convergence of evidence maps replace ‘maps of desertification’ as per WAD1-WAD2;
  • Solutions. Potential solutions to land degradation need to be identified and implemented within the context of local social, economic, and political conditions.

Key messages:

  1. Underlying and familiar factors -- some old, some new -- are driving environmental change/land degradation at a global scale;
  2. Some recurring global issues (such as surface and ground water) have an alarming urgency that could not be known 20 years ago;
  3. There is a growing confirmation of suspected global trends (such as a decline in productivity) that may impact sustainability;
  4. Global issues that were only suspected previously will shape how we look at both processes and solutions (such as telecouplings; smallholders vs. largeholders);
  5. Some regional patterns of potential degradation are reconfirmed (south Asia; China) and some underlying causes are revealed (heavy fertilizer use and irrigation);
  6. New regional patterns of potential land degradation are revealed (especially in central Asia);
  7. Concerns emerge at the regional level that bring into question our ability to meet the demands of future populations,such as maintaining and increasing yields on high-density croplands and increasing crop yields (by closing yield gaps) on low-density and low-input croplands


The Atlas provides examples of how human activity drives species to extinction, threatens food security, intensifies climate change and leads to people being displaced from their homes. 

While land degradation is a global problem, it takes place locally and requires local solutions. Greater commitment and more effective cooperation at the local level are necessary to stop land degradation and loss of biodiversity. 

Further agricultural expansion, one of the main causes of land degradation, could be limited by increasing yields on existing farmland, shifting to plant-based diets, consuming animal proteins from sustainable sources and reducing food loss and waste. 

The Atlas gives a clear overview of the underlying causes of degradation worldwide. It also contains a large number of facts, forecasts and global datasets that can be used to identify important biophysical and socio-economic processes that, on their own or combined, can lead to unsustainable land use and land degradation. 

Full text of the NEW World Atlas of Desertification you can find in our catalogue

You can download the entire Atlas, or separate chapters, from the links below:

  1. Full version (1.2GB)
  2. Introduction (23 MB)
  3. Global Patterns of Human Domination (115 MB)
  4. Feeding a Growing Global Population (200 MB)
  5. Limits to Sustainability (370 MB)
  6. Convergence of Evidence (400 MB)
  7. Solutions (120 MB)

   or you can order the publication from the EU Bookshop (; WAD3