Thought leadership

  • Date 05 June 2024
  • Words by Carl Atkin-House
  • Reading time 3 mins

UNEP World Environment Day 5 June 2024

UNEP's World Environment Day (WED), celebrated this year on 5 June, encourages awareness and action for the protection of the environment. In this blog, Carl Atkin-House shares his thoughts and insights with reference to the United Nations campaign, which this year focuses on land restoration, desertification and drought resilience under the slogan “Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration.”

Carl Atkin-House

Climate Asset Management’s Natural Capital Strategy, which invests across regenerative agriculture, sustainable forestry and environmental assets in developed markets and our Nature Based Carbon Strategy, which invests in high impact land transformation projects in the Global South, are both aligned with the focus of this year’s campaign.

The statistics are shocking:

  • Humanity has already transformed over 70% of the Earth’s land area from its natural state, causing unparalleled environmental degradation and contributing significantly to global warming.  The global extent of land degradation is estimated at between 20-40% of the total land area, directly affecting nearly half of the world’s population and spanning the world’s croplands, drylands, wetlands, forests, and grasslands[1].
  • One third of the world’s land surface is threatened by desertification. Desertification is defined as the persistent degradation of land ecosystems by human activities such as unsustainable farming, mining, overgrazing, deforestation and climate change.  Some 120,000 km2 become desert every year[2].
  • Drought has been labelled “the silent killer”.  It can have a serious impact on health, agriculture, economies, energy and the environment.  An estimated 55 million people globally are affected by drought every year, and it is the most serious hazard to livestock and crops in nearly every part of the world.  Drought threatens people’s livelihoods, increases the risk of disease and death, and fuels mass migration. Water scarcity affects 40% of the world’s population, and it is estimated that as many as 700 million people are at risk of being displaced as a result of drought by 2030[3].

According to the UN, more than three billion people are already living with the impact of desertification, land degradation and drought.  These are “mostly poor rural communities, small-scale farmers, women, youth, indigenous peoples and other at-risk groups”[4]”.

[1] https://www.unccd.int/sites/default/files/2022-04/GLO2_SDM_low-res_0.pdf
[2] https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/forests-and-deserts/global-land-degradation
[3] https://www.who.int/health-topics/drought#tab=tab_1
[4] https://www.carbonbrief.org/un-land-report-five-key-takeaways-for-climate-change-food-systems-and-nature-loss/#:~:text=More%20than%203%20billion%20people,other%20at%2Drisk%20groups%E2%80%9D.

The global extent of land degradation is estimated at between 20-40% of the total land area, directly affecting nearly half of the world’s population and spanning the world’s croplands, drylands, wetlands, forests, and grasslands”

Transforming the way we manage land, leveraging private capital to catalyse and accelerate the change is a core part of the solution to increase the rate of land restoration, stem the tide of desertification and increase the climate resilience of agricultural systems.. Simply sustaining current activities is no longer enough – we need to take positive action to repair, restore and regenerate land to reverse historic damage and decline.

  • Shifting agricultural systems to a regenerative approach is fundamental. To limit climate change to 1.5° degrees in accordance with goals of the Paris Agreement, the adoption of regenerative agriculture will need to grow by a factor of three to reach c.40% of global cropland. More widely we need a fundamental  overhaul of our food systems since these are the largest culprit when it comes to land degradation, accounting for 80% of deforestation, up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and the leading share of biodiversity loss.  Our Natural Capital Strategy is taking a lead in the transformation of farmland to regenerative practices in North America, Europe and Oceania.
  • Promoting sustainable grazing is essential.  Many grasslands become degraded due to overgrazing and inappropriate land management. This has an impact on belowground biology and soil biological processes. One aspect that deserves far greater attention is the intensity of grazing and how this affects grassland soil ecosystems.[1] In Kenya, our Nature Based Carbon Strategy is contributing to an iconic project honouring the traditional grazing practices of the Maasai. By restoring scheduled rotational grazing we can enhance climate resilience, improve livelihoods while reinforcing the cultural tradition of working for the benefit of the community as a whole.
  • Promoting reforestation and afforestation is an important strategy for mitigating the effects of deforestation, which can lead to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and increased carbon emissions. By restoring forest cover, reforestation can help to stabilise ecosystems, protect watersheds, create habitat, and promote carbon sequestration.  Our Natural Capital Strategy is investing in sustainable forestry in developed markets and our Nature Based Carbon Strategy is a lead investor in Restore Africa – a project supporting the transition back to traditional agroforestry practices in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi.
  • Where there is unavoidable ecological loss, mitigation and habitat banking can play an important role by creating a system of credits and debits to ensure that this is compensated by the preservation and restoration of wetlands, natural habitats, and streams in other areas so that there is no net loss and even a gain in area of these important ecosystems.
  • Landscape restoration is one of many nature-based solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss that enhances the potential of often degraded landscapes to mitigate, adapt to, and build resilience in the face of climate change.  It aims to restore the ecological characteristics and functions of a landscape using naturally regenerative techniques.   Where there are no core income streams from agricultural or forestry products, payments for ecosystem services (PES) such as greenhouse gas emission avoidance and removal provide an important growing revenue stream for such projects.

[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/27658511.2021.1895474

According to the UN, more than three billion people are already living with the impact of desertification, land degradation and drought. ”

There is no single solution.

We all need to play our part as part of #GenerationRestoration to accelerate the shift to restorative and regenerative land management.

 

 

Images courtesy of Climate Asset Management include: i) the author with the reservoir feeding our Holguera project in Iberia, ii) our team with members of the Maasai community at the Kenyan Group Ranches signing ceremony 2023, iii) wild flowers blooming on land managed for nature at one of our farms in Portugal and iv) cover cropping between the walnut trees at one of our farms in Spain

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