May 12, 2021 1:35:04 p.m. IST
Whether it’s turning forests into farmland or savannas into pastures, humanity has reallocated land over the past 60 years, which is the equivalent of Africa and Europe combined, researchers said Tuesday. If you count all of these transitions since 1960, that’s about 43 million square kilometers (16.5 square miles), four times more than previous estimates, according to a study by Nature communication. “As land use plays a central role in climate protection, biodiversity and food production, understanding its full dynamics is crucial for sustainable land use strategies,” said lead author Karina Winkler, physical geographer at Wageningen University and research in the Netherlands . AFP.
Plants and soils – especially in tropical forests – account for about 30 percent of man-made carbon pollution, so major landscape changes can mean success or failure of the Paris Agreement temperature targets.
The 2015 climate treaty calls on nations to stop global warming to “far below” two degrees Celsius and, if possible, to 1.5 ° C.
The planet has already warmed 1.2 ° C above pre-industrial benchmarks, enough to cause a crescendo of deadly storms, sea level rise, and other impacts.
Since 1960, the earth’s total forest area has decreased by almost one million km2, while the area covered by arable land and pasture has increased by roughly the same amount, according to the study.
However, the global numbers mask the important differences between regions.
The forest area in the global north – Europe, Russia, East Asia, and North America – has increased over the past 60 years, while forest loss in developing countries in the global south has been incredibly high, according to the study.
Conversely, arable land has shrunk in the north and grown in the global south, especially to satisfy the appetites of rich countries.
Demand for raw materials
“Deforestation has occurred in the tropics for the production of beef, sugar cane and soybeans in the Brazilian Amazon, for oil palms in Southeast Asia and for cocoa in Nigeria and Cameroon,” said Winkler.
High oil prices, which peaked at around $ 145 per barrel of crude in 2008, have also fueled the conversion of forests to bioenergy crops.
The study found a rapid change in land use – driven first by the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, then by the expansion of globalized markets – by 2005.
However, after a period of fluctuation in world markets, the pace of land reuse has slowed.
“With the end of the economic boom during the Great Recession (of 2008), global demand for raw materials fell,” the study notes.
Earlier calculations of land use change since the middle of the 20th century have failed for several reasons, explained Winkler.
The data sets were fragmented in terms of both space and time and were based on both assumptions and concrete measures. The resolution of the satellite data was crude, generally distinguishing only two or three categories of land.
The new study relied on long-term land use statistics compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) that identified urban areas, farmland, forests, meadows, pastures, and areas with little or no vegetation such as deserts.
He also used higher resolution satellite images – one square kilometer.
According to the study, about 17% of the earth’s land surface has switched categories at least once since 1960.
But sometimes the same property has changed more than once. If you take into account all of these transitions, the total area of the affected country is 32 percent.
The skin of the earth covers 510 million km2. About 70 percent of that area – 361 million km2 – is water, mostly oceans.
Of the remaining 149 million km2, around 15 million km2 are permanently covered with ice, leaving 134 million km2 of land free of ice.
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