Land Restoration: Moving beyond awareness to action

Published on :

6 June 2024

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Money Control

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With over 75% of the Earth's land already degraded, the global ecosystem faces severe pressure. Urgent action is needed to address this crisis, with governments, businesses, and individuals playing key roles

Our global ecosystem is under immense pressure and is far beyond its regenerative capacity. We currently consume nearly 1.6 times more resources than nature can sustainably offer, a demand our ecosystem is failing to meet. One specific ecosystem that is under immense pressure is our land. Global data suggests that the situation is quite alarming. With over 75 percent of the earth’s land already degraded, nearly 40 percent of the world’s population is at risk. The situation is expected to get worse with over 90 percent of our land being degraded by 2050, resulting in major shifts in consumption patterns, large-scale population displacements, geo-political conflicts, and food security issues. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts a $40 billion annual loss globally attributed to land degradation. As a result, a large part of our population, particularly in dried regions faces extreme poverty, forced migration, and food security issues.

In the last two decades, the issue of land degradation and desertification has been aggravated due to rising populations, increasing consumption levels, and the constant pressure to deliver basic human needs in the form of food, fresh water, and energy services. Climate change has further jeopardized the issue. Burgeoning GHG emissions have led to erratic rainfall patterns raising risks of droughts and floods, causing aberrations in agro-system yields and incomes, and further degrading the ecosystems. Another critical factor exacerbating the problem is unsustainable farming practices, leading to a loss of 24 million tons of fertile soil every year.

Benefits of Land Restoration

Land restoration makes economic sense besides the environmental imperative. The urgency of swift action is also highlighted by a UNEP report suggesting that the economic gains from restoration could be as high as $30 for every dollar spent. As per data, land restoration through agroforestry alone can increase food security for 1.3 billion people. For communities globally, especially in the developing world, these benefits power livelihoods and resilience, creating an overall healthy ecosystem.

As we approach the midpoint of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, what we need is a multi-stakeholder approach for meaningful progress. While countries unite to pledge land degradation neutrality, in my view, government action will remain the prime catalyst for advancement. A key example of success here is India’s political will and ambition.

India has done exceedingly well on account of commitments and policies to address the problem. To date, 131 countries worldwide have pledged to land degradation neutrality targets. India, a leader in this initiative, has committed to restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land, one of the largest in the world, demonstrating our strong national commitment to land restoration and combating climate change.

While land degradation is a global challenge, the occurrence is local and requires local solutions. India’s recent move to leverage MGNREGS to fund land restoration has been lauded globally by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. The Government of India has encouraged sub-national governments to use the MGNREGS for activities including the treatment of ridge areas, drainage lines, rainwater harvesting, afforestation, and establishing horticulture units.

Initiatives and Solutions Suggested

There is also a compelling business case for companies to invest in land restoration activities. As climate change intensifies weather disruptions and land degradation increases globally, businesses dependent on land such as paper, energy, and agribusinesses, run the risk of reduced profitability and supply chain disruptions. Investing in restoration activities, therefore, becomes imperative.

I suggest two areas that the private sector should consider going forward to drive action.

  1. Invest in wasteland restoration. Renewable energy companies across the globe are in an excellent position to restore wastelands around their projects. Investing in agro-photovoltaic projects which serve the twin purpose of generating solar energy and growing crops under the modules has proven to be successful at the pilot stage. Commercial scale-up would require the industry as well as the government to invest in research and development to optimize the plant designs and define standards for layouts and cropping patterns.
  2. Invest in nature-based solutions. Forest-based investments via the voluntary carbon markets have allowed companies globally to offset their emissions and accelerate the net-zero pursuit. The recent revamping of India’s Carbon Credit Trading Scheme (CCTS) which allows ‘non-obligated’ entities to register their decarbonization projects and generate carbon credits is a welcome move. However, the government should look at including nature-based solutions as a sub-category to expand the market and enable forest-based restoration activities at scale.

Lastly, it is important to realize that land restoration is everybody’s business and requires a more consolidated approach, a collaboration across all levels of society. As we progress towards the 2030 target, we should look at fueling individual action by taking small steps. Let us begin by being mindful of our consumption, of not treating the land around us as dumping grounds, and making a conscious effort to build the resilience of our planet. It is our land and our future and we need to do all we can to preserve it for the generations to come. We are generation restoration!

VAISHALI NIGAM SINHA is Co-founder and Chairperson of Sustainability at ReNew.