Land is one of the limited natural resources which is often taken for granted. It is always assumed that that damaged land will heal itself. While it eventually would if it is left alone for a very long time, the reality is that we are unable to afford to provide the time it requires to repair itself.
Four recent independent assessments have shown that degraded land is not recovering fast enough and that the drivers and impacts are no longer limited to the local. They are global.
That puts the onus of restoration on everyone who rightfully consumes that which is not produced locally. The private sector must be engaged as governments cannot do it alone. Also, the benefits of doing so are farreaching and global.
Over 1.3 billion people in the world are directly affected by land degradation, but more than 3.2 billion are impacted indirectly. That is nearly half of the global population, and well over the 2 billion people who live in the world’s dryland areas.
Drylands were the primary target of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) when it was negotiated 25 years ago. These lands face the greatest risk of degradation (referred to as desertification) compared to other types of land systems.
And yet assessments in the last two years have shown that 23 per cent of the land is degraded, mostly in areas outside the drylands. That is about 1 in every 4 to 5 hectares (ha) of land. Moreover, 75 per cent of the land has been altered from its natural state. That’s about 3 out of every 4 hectares of productive land. What’s more, these changes have occurred over the last 50 years, primarily for agriculture.
These changes affect the resilience of land. It makes us more vulnerable to floods, droughts and forest fires. And with habitat loss comes the loss of biodiversity, groundwater and soil fertility, and vast amounts of carbon stored in plants and soil releasing into the atmosphere, worsening climate change.
The businesses today have an opportunity to turn the situation around in their favour. Investing in productive land use and management is not all about the environmental good. It is in our self-interest, enlightened self-interest. It is a quick way to create jobs, preserve seeds, replenish freshwater sources, build beautiful and secure homes and chart the path to good health.
This is both a low-hanging environment-policy fruit as well as a powerful tool to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Degraded land is a liability for business; indeed for any community. The reverse is also true. Restoring degraded land will help farmers to flourish, communities to thrive, the private sector to grow and the environment system to rebound.
The success of the anti-plastics campaign, the emergence of environmental protests by schoolchildren and the growing influence of green parties in Europe herald a new era, and signal that a private sector committed to “sustainable living” must be part of any business model.
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The CSR Journal Team