Analysis, Interviews, Opinions

Why land degradation needs urgent global action

Land degradation requires immediate and concerted action from stakeholders across the world, a leading environmentalist has said, in light of the World Environment Day being marked on June 5 – a major outreach programme of the United Nations in support of the environment.

“Every year, the UNEP-led World Environment Day (WED) highlights a critical environmental issue, and, in the process, brings together the global think tank to address the underlying factors and spearhead international efforts to protect the environment,” said Sonal Agrawal, Lead Environmental Consultant at Climatize, a Serco Company.

This year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is hosting World Environment Day with a focus on accelerating land restoration, drought resilience and desertification progress – or, in simple terms, preventing land from degrading, according to Agrawal.

Here’s what Agrawal has to say:

Let’s delve into the urgency of the issue: land degradation or the reduction/loss of the soil’s productive capacity,” she said.

This degradation, caused by natural factors like rainfall, floods, earthquakes, droughts, and man-made factors such as deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, urbanisation, and commercialisation, is a looming crisis.

Land, like air and water, is a crucial resource for humankind. Its degradation leads to food insecurity, rising food prices, climate change, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and other environmental hazards, affecting us all.

The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated, and it requires immediate and concerted action from all stakeholders. 

Some countries are at the forefront of combating land degradation. Initiatives like the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the G20 Global Land Initiative have escalated efforts at the global level.

The G20 Global Land Initiative was adopted under Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency, and they are now hosting World Environment Day with a similar theme.

While governments are awakening to the value of sustainable land management due to its direct link to food security, businesses are still lagging. It's crucial to emphasise that businesses, despite their current stance, play a significant role in combating land degradation.

By recognising their potential and stepping up their efforts, companies can become a crucial part of the solution, ultimately making a real difference.

An organisation targeting LEED certification might avoid building on sensitive lands, such as farmland, floodplains, and habitat, opting for a brownfield site instead.

The companies reporting their ESG (environment, social, and governance) performance as per widely adopted Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) standards might address the land degradation aspect through GRI disclosure on Effluent and Waste.

However, the lack of standardised metrics to measure and track land degradation makes it difficult for companies to assess their impact and make informed decisions about sustainable land management.

The ESG frameworks fail to address land as an environmental parameter to be monitored, which needs to change. The existing ESG reporting frameworks struggle to give this component its own section and create confusion for businesses when determining how to monitor environmental impacts comprehensively; there is currently no standard metric that serves as a one-stop solution.

Looking ahead, the need for a unified approach to reporting is paramount. Such an approach would provide transparent, consistent, and measurable performance across businesses. This would drive cohesive, effective policymaking, improve cross-border cooperation, and enhance global environmental standing.

The kingdom has a unique opportunity this World Environment Day to lay the foundation for this unified framework, setting a precedent for the world to follow in how we present our environmental report card.

This could be the start of a brighter, more sustainable future, underlining the importance of collaboration and standardisation.