United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has said that Land Use Change, prepares the ground for zoonoses like Covid-19, and it should be reversed. Land Use Change reduces the physical distance between animals and humans, which increases the interaction and conflict between the two. These interactions often result in zoonoses like Covid-19.
What is Land Use Change?
Land Use Change is a process which transforms the natural landscape by direct land use by humans in the form of settlements, commercial and economic uses and forestry activities. This impacts the overall environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation and climate change.
Effects of Land Use Change on Environment and Ecology
Land Use change is a major factor in CO2 (carbon dioxide) atmospheric concentration, making it a contributor to global climate change. In fact, it represents almost 25% of total global emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), over 70% of all-natural, ice-free land in the world is affected by human use. This could further rise to 90% by 2050.
Land degradation affects 3.2 billion people worldwide caused as a result of Land Use Change. Ecosystem services such as forest, agriculture, grassland tourism etc. worth $10.6 trillion are lost due to land degradation annually. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, by 2050, over 500-million-hectare area of new agricultural land will be needed to meet the global food demand.
Why do humans change the land?
Despite understanding the consequences, humans continue to change the land for the following reasons:
Population Growth – Fast growing population and the consequent high pressure on resources have an adverse effect on the existing natural resources of the land area. The increasing food insecurity has led the farmers to further encroach upon the forested areas for agriculture. Mangroves have been cleared to construct residential and commercial buildings in urban areas, to accommodate the influx of people from rural areas in search of work.
Image by Szabolcs Molnar from Pixabay Forest Resources – Continuous and exhaustive thinning of forestry resources for diverse uses, particularly for construction, firewood and agricultural tools led to the degradation of forest cultivated land. This causes habitat loss for animals living in these forests and increases the incidents of human-animal conflicts which more often than not end up causing casualties among the animals.
Reversing the Land use change
According to a report by IPCC on land use, increased food production, improved cropland management, livestock management, agroforestry, increased soil organic carbon content and reduced post-harvest losses would help in ecosystem conservation and land restoration. These management practices could deliver up to $1.4 trillion in increased crop production.
Additionally, in order to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (Sustainable Development Goal target 15.3), additional commitments in the land-use sector, namely to restore and rehabilitate 12 million hectares of degraded land per year could help close the emissions gap by up to 25% in the year 2030. The restoration of these areas as part of building back better to avoid future zoonoses would bring other crucial benefits, particularly mitigating climate change.
The urgency to slow down and reverse Land Use Change cannot be overrated as land is a critical component of biodiversity. The Land Use Sector is critical to achieving the aim of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2°C.
The only way to achieve it is through responsible land governance which is the key to provide an enabling environment for ecosystem restoration, biodiversity protection, land use-based adaptation and for improving the livelihoods of many small-scale farmers. It is important that the guidelines to prevent and reverse Land Use Change is accepted and adopted by not just the governments, but also corporate houses, to protect the world from future pandemics.