We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
On 21 June 2018, the JRC published a new edition of the World Atlas of Desertification, offering a tool for decision makers to improve local responses to soil loss and land degradation.
The Atlas provides the first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of land degradation at a global level and highlights the urgency to adopt corrective measures.
Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the Joint Research Centre (JRC), said: "Over the past twenty years, since the publication of the last edition of the World Atlas of Desertification, pressures on land and soil have increased dramatically. To preserve our planet for future generations, we urgently need to change the way we treat these precious resources. This new and much more advanced edition of the Atlas gives policymakers worldwide comprehensive and easily accessible insights into land degradation, its causes and potential remedies to tackle desertification and restoring degraded land."
The Atlas provides examples of how human activity drives species to extinction, threatens food security, intensifies climate change and leads to people being displaced from their homes.
The main findings show that population growth and changes in our consumption patterns put unprecedented pressure on the planet's natural resources:
While land degradation is a global problem, it takes place locally and requires local solutions. Greater commitment and more effective cooperation at the local level are necessary to stop land degradation and loss of biodiversity.
Further agricultural expansion, one of the main causes of land degradation, could be limited by increasing yields on existing farmland, shifting to plant-based diets, consuming animal proteins from sustainable sources and reducing food loss and waste.
The Atlas gives a clear overview of the underlying causes of degradation worldwide. It also contains a large number of facts, forecasts and global datasets that can be used to identify important biophysical and socio-economic processes that, on their own or combined, can lead to unsustainable land use and land degradation.
Under the United Nations' Sustainable Development Agenda, world leaders have committed to “combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world” by 2030.
While at global level desertification is addressed by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), land degradation is a problem that concerns the United Nations Framework Convention on Combating Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity.
The importance of land degradation and desertification led to the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 15.3 aiming at land degradation neutrality.
At EU level desertification affects 8% of the territory, particularly in Southern, Eastern and Central Europe. These regions – representing around 14 million hectares – show high sensitivity to desertification.
Thirteen Member States have declared themselves affected by desertification under UNCCD: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
The EU is fully committed to protecting soil and fostering sustainable land use, and takes these commitments into account when developing proposals on energy, agriculture, forestry climate change, research and other areas.
The new edition of the Atlas published today was created using new data processing methods employed by EU scientists, thousands of high-performance computers and 1.8 petabytes of satellite data. The volume of data corresponds to 2.7 million CD-ROM discs or more than 6 years of 24/7 full high definition video recording.
The two first editions of the Atlas were published in 1992 ahead of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and five years later, in 1998, with some additional case studies.