Up to 40% of the planet’s land is now degraded, mainly caused by farming and water usage for the production of clothing, food and other products, according to the United Nations (UN).

In its new Global Land Outlook 2 report, the UN has forecast that, if no action is taken by 2050, there will be additional degradation of land covering an area nearly the size of South America.

It warns that the way land resources – soil, water and biodiversity – are currently mismanaged and misused threatens the health and continued survival of many species on Earth, including humanity.

It points to rising demand for food, animal feed, bioenergy and raw materials for textiles and clothing which have led to deforestation and land being over-farmed and left unusable.

Most of the land degradation is in the developing world but the cause is overconsumption across the planet, mainly from food production but also from “fast fashion” where garments are worn briefly and then thrown away.

Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), said: “Modern agriculture has altered the face of the planet more than any other human activity. We need to urgently rethink our global food systems, which are responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use, and the single greatest cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss.

“Investing in large-scale land restoration is a powerful, cost-effective tool to combat desertification, soil erosion and loss of agricultural production. As a finite resource and our most valuable natural asset, we cannot afford to continue taking land for granted.”

UNCCD’s evidence-based flagship Global Land Outlook 2 (GLO2) report has been five years in development with 21 partner organisations.

It offers an overview and details of the planetary consequences of three scenarios through to 2050: business as usual, restoration of 50 million square kilometres of land, and restoration measures boosted by the conservation of natural areas important for specific ecosystem functions.

It also assesses the potential contributions of land restoration investments to climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, human health and other key sustainability development goals.

Click here for the full report.