There’s No Continent, No Country Not Impacted by Land Degradation

On all continents you have the issue of land degradation, and it requires governments, land users and all different communities in a country to be part of the solution. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah /IPS

By Desmond Brown
ANKARA, Jun 17 2019 – The coming decades will be crucial in shaping and implementing a transformative land agenda, according to a scientist at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) framework for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN).

UNCCD-Science Policy Interface co-chair Dr. Mariam Akhtar-Schuster, who spoke with IPS ahead of the start of activities to mark World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) on Monday, Jun. 17, said this was one of the key messages emerging for policy- and other decision-makers.

This comes after the dire warnings in recent publications on desertification, land degradation and drought of the Global Land OutlookIntergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration, World Atlas of Desertification, and IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

“The main message is: things are not improving. The issue of desertification is becoming clearer to different communities, but we now have to start implementing the knowledge that we already have to combat desertification,” Akhtar-Schuster told IPS.

“It’s not only technology that we have to implement, it is the policy level that has to develop a governance structure which supports sustainable land management practices.”

IPBES Science and Policy for People and Nature found that the biosphere and atmosphere, upon which humanity as a whole depends, have been deeply reconfigured by people.

The report shows that 75 percent of the land area is very significantly altered, 66 percent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and 85 percent of the wetland area has been lost.

“There are of course areas which are harder hit; these are areas which are experiencing extreme drought which makes it even more difficult to sustainably use land resources,” Akhtar-Schuster said.

“On all continents you have the issue of land degradation, so there’s no continent, there’s no country which can just lean back and say this is not our issue. Everybody has to do something.”

Akhtar-Schuster said there is sufficient knowledge out there which already can support evidence-based implementation of technology so that at least land degradation does not continue.

While the information is available, Akhtar-Schuster said it requires governments, land users and all different communities in a country to be part of the solution.

“There is no top-down approach. You need the people on the ground, you need the people who generate knowledge and you need the policy makers to implement that knowledge. You need everybody,” the UNCCD-SPI co-chair said.

“Nobody in a community, in a social environment, can say this has nothing to do with me. We are all consumers of products which are generated from land. So, we in our daily lives – the way we eat, the way we dress ourselves – whatever we do has something to do with land, and we can take decisions which are more friendly to land than what we’re doing at the moment.”

UNCCD-Science Policy Interface co-chair Dr. Mariam Akhtar-Schuster says things are not improving and that the issue of desertification is becoming clearer to different communities. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

UNCCD Lead Scientist Dr. Barron Joseph Orr said it’s important to note that while the four major assessments were all done for different reasons, using different methodologies, they are all converging on very similar messages.

He said while in the past land degradation was seen as a problem in a place where there is overgrazing or poor management practices on agricultural lands, the reality is, that’s not influencing the change in land.

“What’s very different from the past is the rate of land transformation. The pace of that change is considerable, both in terms of conversion to farm land and conversion to built-up areas,” Orr told IPS.

“We’ve got a situation where 75 percent of the land surface of the earth has been transformed, and the demand for food is only going to go up between now and 2050 with the population growth expected to increase one to two billion people.”

That’s a significant jump. Our demand for energy that’s drawn from land, bio energy, or the need for land for solar and wind energy is only going to increase but these studies are making it clear that we are not optimising our use,” Orr added.

Like Akhtar-Schuster, Orr said it’s now public knowledge what tools are necessary to sustainably manage agricultural land, and to restore or rehabilitate land that has been degraded.

“We need better incentives for our farmers and ranchers to do the right thing on the landscape, we have to have stronger safeguards for tenures so that future generations can continue that stewardship of the land,” he added.

The international community adopted the Convention to Combat Desertification in Paris on Jun. 17, 1994.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Convention and the World Day to Combat Desertification in 2019 (#2019WDCD), UNCCD will look back and celebrate the 25 years of progress made by countries on sustainable land management.

At the same time, they will look at the broad picture of the next 25 years where they will achieve land degradation neutrality.

The anniversary campaign runs under the slogan “Let’s grow the future together,” with the global observance of WDCD and the 25th anniversary of the Convention on Jun. 17, hosted by the government of Turkey.

Air Pollution Ranked as Biggest Environmental Threat to Human Health

By Emily Thampoe
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2019 – In a world that is becoming more and more industrial by the day, air pollution appears to be on the rise.

While there have been efforts in major cities to combat the grave effects that pollution can have on the overall health of its citizens, there is still more progress to be made.

Karen Beck Pooley, a Professor of Practice of Political Science and the Director of Lehigh University’s Environmental Policy Design program, told IPS: “One thing that we’ve always known but we haven’t paid as much attention to until fairly recently is the degree to which people’s immediate environments affect their health.”

The importance of recognising air pollution as a prevalent problem was emphasised by the theme of the recent 2019 World Environment Day, with official celebrations held in this year’s host country, China.

Additionally, reports such as the one released recently in Sarajevo, and titled “Air Pollution and Human Health: The Case of the Western Balkans”, highlighted the adverse effects on the public.

Talking on the implications of air pollution, Catriona Brady, Head of the World Green Building Council’s Better Places for People campaign told IPS that, “air pollution is considered to be the biggest environmental threat to human health today”.

“Research shows that over 90% of people across the world are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution, which includes both the population in big cities and small communities. The effect this pollution has on citizen health is quite horrifying – studies suggest that almost every organ of the human body can be affected by toxic airborne particles, and this is resulting in an approximate 7 million premature deaths each year.”

Pooley notes that the actual planning of cities can have an impact on the amount of pollution produced, saying that, “The way we build our cities and the way people organise their lives in them, affect how much we need car travel or truck traffic. Or environmentally dirty things that we need like trash facilities and where these things are located and who’s living in the midst of the effects of those things.”

While there are positive plans, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to phase out coal usage in his country by 2030 or Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plan to ban single-use plastics from being used in the country’s national parks, there are also efforts being made on both smaller and larger scales worldwide.

Pooley observes that, ““At the moment, most of the environmental conservation work and attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and things of that nature are coming from cities.”

Brady says that her organisation, “has embarked on a global ‘Air Quality in Built Environment’ campaign, in partnership with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

“With this work we’ve been raising awareness about the role of buildings and cities in generating emissions and air pollution, both inside and outside of buildings, and highlighting strategies that can be valuable to mitigate these. Step one is monitoring – as we can’t reduce what we can’t measure.”

She also said: “We’re advocating for the roll out of air quality monitors to provide detailed data on emissions across the world. With this data we’re equipped with the necessary information to lobby our policy makers to make changes needed to clean up our energy grid, buildings, and air quality.”

Pooley states that citizens can make small changes that will be helpful as well. “Cutting down on car travel can be a big help, because so much pollution comes from cars. So, the more places that are walkable and bikeable and the more trips that are made by something other than cars, the less pollution we’ll have.”

Day to day actions can be quite helpful but having policies put in place may also help deter the harmful effects that poor air quality is having on the lives of those who inhabit such areas.

Brady suggests something similar, while also maintaining that citizen action is important. Policy initiatives – such as the recent London Ultra Low Emission Zone – can help catalyse action towards clean air.

Policy enforcement around energy generation, building energy efficiency, construction practices, transport, waste and many other factors are vital to preserve citizen health.

“But the role of the citizen is also important; reducing the emissions from our lifestyle in terms of energy consumption and choices, diet, and transport methods are all achievable for the individual,” said Brady.

“And if you’re worried about being exposed to pollution by cycling or walking to work, then it’s worth knowing that you’re generally exposed to far higher levels of pollutants in a car in traffic or in an underground system!”

With world leaders proposing plans to help deter ruinous environmental effects and with cities implementing new policies to help out, it is clear that progress is being made in helping to create cleaner environments to live in.