​Land degradation may lead to 10-17 % loss of global GDP according to Executive Secretary of UNCCD

On Friday, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Ibrahim Thiaw, held a Q&A session with the press regarding the 14th session of the Conference of the Parties, which is hosted by New Delhi from September 2 to 13. The Executive Secretary took the opportunity to address the effects of land degradation and desertification had on economy and health, as well as the positive impact land restoration may have in rectifying such issues.

Starting out by briefly mentioning the importance of land in general, Mr. Thiaw proceeded to talk of land degradation and restoration from an economic perspective, stating that the loss to the world economy due to land degradation “is estimated between 10 and 17 % of the global GDP”. When later asked whether it is true that forest fires contribute to land degradation, he agreed stating that they may thus have disastrous implications for the economy and condition of living for communities. He further mentioned the increasing number of forest fires as droughts become more frequent, especially referring to this year’s fires in boreal and tropical forests.

Continuing to talk of the effects of land degradation, he outlined some of the health concerns regarding land degradation: “We may or may not know that phenomenon like sand and dust storm are major cause of health concern in many parts of the world, especially related to asthma and respiratory disease like bronchitis but also meningitis and other phenomenon”. In fact, according to a research article by Sultan A Meo in 2013, published through the Pakistan Journal of Medical Science, a big proportion of victims exposed to a sandstorm for about 24 minutes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, showed great effects. Of the subjects used for the study, 20.88 % had experience acute asthmatic attacks, 38.5 % complained about body aches, 33.46 % experience wheezing, and 47.77 % complaint of cough.

Stating that “This is not a local issue, it is purely global”, Mr. Thiaw listed a few examples of sandstorms in 2018 that had during the year captured global attention. One of these were a sand and dust storm in northern India that was responsible for 125 deaths and 200 injuries. Another was what came to be known as “Mars on Earth” that was affecting Europe. Mr. Thiaw also mentioned that and average of 70 countries are affected by drought every year, and the in 2018, 25 countries called for emergency measures.


However, on a more positive note the Executive Secretary stated that “(…) the technology, the science, and the knowledge is there to actually reduce land degradation and fix this phenomenon once and for all”. Explaining that restoring land we may be able to mitigate climate change. “It is estimated that 30 % of the emissions can be actually fixed through land restoration,” he said, continuing to explain the importance of restoration with respect to biodiversity.

Finishing his address Mr. Thiaw mentioned the economic advantages of restoring land, as it is a very labor-intensive process which will create green jobs. He claimed it was the cheapest way of addressing the issue of climate change, in light of a recent report from the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) demonstrating that land is affected by climate change, but also that climate change is affected by land degradation.