Agriculture, Food and Beverage

Desertification: what is it and why is it one of the greatest threats of our time?

Deep trouble. Image: REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Robert McSweeney

Science Editor, Carbon Brief

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The opening section of Article 1 of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which was adopted in 1994 and came into force in 1996. Image: United Nations Treaty Collection
The observed distribution of different aridity levels, based on data for 1981-2010. Shading colour indicates regions defined as cold (grey), humid (green), dry subhumid (red), arid (dark orange), semiarid (pale orange) and hyperarid (pale yellow), Image: Map produced by the European Commission’s Joint Research Unit.

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Land affected by overgrazing by cattle in India. Image: Credit: Maximilian Buzun / Alamy Stock Photo.
Deforestation near Gambela, Ethiopia. Image: Credit: Joerg Boethling / Alamy Stock Photo.
A Haboob dust storm rolls over the Mohawk Mountains near Tacna, Arizona, 9 July 2018. Image: Credit: John Sirlin / Alamy Stock Photo.
Soil erosion in Kenya. Image: Credit: Martin Harvey / Alamy Stock Photo.
Status of desertification in arid regions of the world. Image: Taken from Dregne, H. E. (1977) Desertification of arid lands, Economic Geography, Vol. 53(4): pp.322-331. © Clark University, reprinted by permission of Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group, www.tandfonline.com on behalf of Clark University.
Global Assessment of Human-induced Soil Degradation (GLASOD). Shading indicates type of degradation: chemical (red), wind (yellow), physical (purple) and water (blue), with darker shading showing higher levels of degradation. Image: Source: Oldeman, L. R., Hakkeling, R. T. A. and Sombroek, W. G. (1991) World Map of the Status of Human-Induced Soil Degradation: An explanatory note(rev. ed.), UNEP and ISRIC, Wageningen.
Map showing “convergence of evidence” of 14 land degradation risks from the third edition of the World Atlas of Desertification. Shading indicates the number of coincident risks. The areas with the fewest are shown in blue, which then increase through green, yellow, orange and the most in red. Image: Credit: Publication Office of the European Union
Projected changes in aridity index (the ratio of rainfall to PET), simulated over land by 27 CMIP5 climate models by 2100 under the RCP8.5 scenario. Image: Source: Sherwood & Fu (2014). Reproduced with permission from Steven Sherwood.
Testing soil health by measuring for nitrogen leakage in Western Kenya. Image: Credit: CIAT / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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Agriculture, Food and BeverageFuture of the EnvironmentSustainable Development

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