It’s not just the earth’s atmosphere that humans are degrading, land across the globe is quickly becoming unusable. Intensive farming, mining, urbanization, and mass-scale infrastructures like water systems and power plants are destroying the earth’s surface according to new research by the intergovernmental body that assesses the state of biodiversity, the IPBES. According to the group’s latest assessment, up to 3.2 billion people are now at risk because of land degradation. The report drew on over 3,000 scientific, governmental, indigenous, and local resources to draw a damning picture of where our world is hurtling towards.
Humans are “pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction” according to Professor Robert Scholes, a co-chair of the assessment. Our interference with millions of ecosystems, and the resultant soil erosion, land abandonment, and a decline in wild species is causing countries to dry up, literally—while food poverty and mass migration continue to rise across the globe.
Chief among the land being lost in this transformation are wetlands, which require urgent protection according to the report. “We have seen losses of 87 percent in wetland areas since the start of the modern era,” writes Dr. Luca Montanarella, a lead researcher of the assessment.
Despite living a period of increased acceptance of environmental stewardship, backed evermore by corporations looking for market-based solutions to protect the eco-system, carbon emissions have continued to grow in the last year. As New York Magazine recently noted, the targets set by the Paris Climate Accords increasingly look to be a “fantasy” with emissions increasing by 1.7 percent globally and fatal weather events recurring at greater rates across the world. It is possible that the scales have tipped beyond our reach, and that scenario of massive global upheaval has already been set in motion.
“In just over three decades from now, an estimated 4 billion people will live in drylands,” writes Professor Scholes. “By then, it is likely that land degradation, together with the closely related problems of climate change, will have forced 50-700 million people to migrate.”