Half of Pasture Lands on Earth Degraded by Climate Change & Overuse, Threatening Food Supply of Billions: UN Report

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The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has found that as much as half of the natural pasture land on Earth has been degraded by the impacts of climate change and overexploitation, putting a sixth of the planet’s food supplies at risk.

The new UNCCD report — Global Land Outlook Thematic Report on Rangelands and Pastoralists — emphasizes the importance of rangelands and points to ways to better manage and restore them while protecting pastoralism.

“Degradation of Earth’s extensive, often immense natural pastures and other rangelands due to overuse, misuse, climate change and biodiversity loss poses a severe threat to humanity’s food supply and the wellbeing or survival of billions of people,” a press release from UNCCD said.

Most pastures are lost or compromised by conversion to cropland and other changes due to urban expansion and population growth and their accompanying rise in food and fuel demands; excessive grazing; policies that incentivize overexploitation; and the abandonment of land by pastoralists.

These land use changes lead to diminished soil nutrients and fertility, salinization, alkalinization, erosion and soil compaction, which inhibits plant growth. These effects all contribute to fluctuations in precipitation, drought and biodiversity loss on the surface of the land and belowground.

“To have any chance of meeting global biodiversity, climate and food security goals, we simply cannot afford to lose any more of our rangelands, grasslands and savannahs. Our planet suffers from their ongoing conversion, as do the pastoralists who depend on them for their livelihoods, and all those who rely on them for food, water and other vital ecosystem services,” said Joao Campari, WWF’s global food practice leader, in the press release.

Rangelands consist primarily of the natural grasslands livestock and wild animals use to graze and forage. They also include savannas, wetlands, tundra, shrublands and deserts.

Rangelands make up 54 percent of all land on the planet.

“When we cut down a forest, when we see a 100-year-old tree fall, it rightly evokes an emotional response in many of us. The conversion of ancient rangelands, on the other hand, happens in ‘silence’ and generates little public reaction,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of UNCCD, in the press release. “Sadly, these expansive landscapes and the pastoralists and livestock breeders who depend on them are usually under-appreciated. Despite numbering an estimated half a billion individuals worldwide, pastoralist communities are frequently overlooked, lack a voice in policy-making that directly affects their livelihoods, marginalised, and even often seen as outsiders in their own lands.”

The UNCCD report was launched by the authors in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. In 2026, Mongolia will host the meeting of the UNCCD Conference of the Parties — the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists (IYRP).

“As custodian of the largest grasslands in Eurasia, Mongolia has always been cautious in transforming rangelands. Mongolian traditions are built on the appreciation of resource limits, which defined mobility as a strategy, established shared responsibilities over the land, and set limits in consumption,” said H.E. Bat-Erdene Bat-Ulzii, Mongolia’s environment minister, in the press release.

Two billion people worldwide — small-scale farmers, herders and ranchers — depend upon healthy rangelands.

In many states in West Africa, 80 percent of the population is employed in livestock production. And in Mongolia and Central Asia, grazing rangelands make up 60 percent of land area, with livestock herding supporting almost a third of the population.

The report points out that efforts to bolster productivity and food security through the conversion of rangelands to crops in regions that are mostly arid have led to lower agricultural yields and land degradation.

The undermining of rangelands is due to “poorly implemented policies and regulations,” “weak and ineffective governance,” and “the lack of investment in rangeland communities and sustainable production models,” the report said.

More than 60 experts from over 40 countries contributed to the report.

The report details an approach to enable policymakers to restore, manage and stabilize rangelands backed by case studies that describe lessons learned from the missteps and successes of rangeland management.

One of the authors’ primary recommendations is to protect pastoralism — “a mobile way of life dating back millennia centred on the pasture-based production of sheep, goats, cattle, horses, camels, yaks, llamas or other domesticated herbivores, along with semi-domesticated species such as bison and reindeer,” the press release said.

“From the tropics to the Arctic, pastoralism is a desirable default — and often the most sustainable — option that should be incorporated into rangeland use planning,” Thiaw said.

Among the report’s other key recommendations are integrating climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies with sustainable plans for rangeland management to boost the resilience of rangeland and pastoralist communities while increasing carbon sequestration and storage.

The authors also recommend avoiding or reducing the conversion of rangelands and changes to land use that diminish the multifunctionality and diversity of rangelands, especially on communal and Indigenous lands.

“Imbalance between the supply of and demand for animal forage lands leads to overgrazing, invasive species, and the increased risk of drought and wildfires – all of which accelerate desertification and land degradation trends around the world,” said Maryam Niamir-Fuller, co-chair of the UN IYRP International Support Group, in the press release. “We must translate our shared aspirations into concrete actions – stopping indiscriminate conversion of rangelands into unsuitable land uses, advocating for policies that support sustainable land management, investing in research that enhances our understanding of rangelands and pastoralism, empowering pastoralist communities to preserve their sustainable practices while also gaining tools to thrive in a changing world, and supporting all stakeholders, especially pastoralists, to implement measures that effectively thwart further degradation and preserve our land, our communities, and our cultures.”

This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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