At least 50 million humans will be forced to migrate by 2050 because of the deterioration of the planet’s soil, and up to 700 million if nothing is done to stop the damage, said Monday a group of scientists.
“Soil degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three facets of the same important challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on our natural environment,” said expert Robert Watson, introducing the first world report ever made on this theme.
This deterioration, caused among other things by unsustainable agricultural practices, pollution and urban expansion, is already affecting 3.2 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population. The soils are in a “critical” state, warns this large study unveiled at the end of the 6th plenary session of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) held since March 17 in Medellin, Colombia.
“We have transformed much of our forests, our grasslands, we have lost 87% of our wetlands (…) We have really changed the land surface,” said Mr. Watson, president of IPBES, which counts 129 member countries and already alerted last Friday on a massive extinction of the species of the planet.
Poorly exploited or overexploited, soils lose in quality. This translates into a decrease in “arable land and therefore livelihoods,” which “will force people to leave,” he told journalists.
By 2050, this degradation “combined with the problems of climate change, which are closely linked, will force 50 to 700 million people to migrate,” adds this analysis by a hundred volunteer researchers from 45 countries.
The most optimistic projection will be achieved “if we really try to have more sustainable farming and forestry practices, to minimize climate change,” said Watson. But “if we continue with our unsustainable practices,” some 700 million humans will be forced to migrate over the next thirty years, he warned.
The phenomenon is fueled by “the highly consumerist lifestyle” of rich countries, as well as by the growth of income and demography in developing countries, the report adds. It is also a factor of wars: “Declining soil productivity makes societies more vulnerable to social instability, especially in dry regions, where years of very low rainfall have been associated with rising violent conflict. Up to 45%,” according to the researchers.
IPBES also pointed out that “4/5th of the world’s population lives in areas threatened by lack of water” and that only 25% of the world’s land has not been “significantly affected” by human activity , which is expected to fall to 10% by 2050. “The tropical forests have historically been sparsely populated because it was difficult to get in. Today we build roads, we introduce agriculture,” said Robert Scholes, one of the co-authors of the report.
This affects animals, plants and forests that produce oxygen and absorb the gases responsible for global warming. The loss in biodiversity is expected to be 38-46% by 2050.
Impact on biodiversity
The report took three years of work and compiles all recent scientific publications on this topic. Its realization cost about one million dollars. The experts and decision-makers of the IPBES member countries “approved it (…) after thirty hours” of in-camera debates, said Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the organization.
On Friday, IPBES issued a disturbing verdict on the planet’s biodiversity, threatened by the first massive extinction of species since that of dinosaurs and the first caused by humans.
Beyond the diagnosis, the organization made some recommendations on Monday: generalization of sustainable agricultural practices, pollution control, urban planning including “green infrastructures”, parks, among others. “It is possible to act (…) governments have at their disposal tools to do this,” Mrs Larigauderie said.
The benefits of soil restoration are ten times higher than their cost, according to IPBES, which emphasized the need to coordinate international, national and individual actions, now fragmented. “Taking the right steps to fight the deterioration of the earth can transform the lives of millions of people around the world,” said Watson, “but the longer we take to take action, the more difficult and costly it will be.”