Land and Climate Change Fast Facts

The Problem:

Among the many gifts forests give us is one we desperately need: help with slowing climate change. Trees capture greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide, preventing them from accumulating in the atmosphere and warming our planet. When we clear forests, we’re only knocking out our best ally in capturing the staggering amount of GHGs we humans create. Deforestation on its own causes about 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. (Rainforest Alliance

Desertification has been described as the greatest environmental challenge of our time and climate change is making it worse. The direct causes of desertification can be broadly divided between those relating to how the land is – or isn’t – managed and those relating to the climate. The former includes factors such as deforestation, overgrazing of livestock, over-cultivation of crops and inappropriate irrigation; the latter includes natural fluctuations in climate and global warming as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. (Carbon Brief)

Of all the ways climate change inflicts harm, drought is one of the most worrisome. While droughts can have different causes depending on the area of the world and other natural factors, the majority of scientists have started to link more intense droughts to climate change. That’s because as more greenhouse gas emissions are released into the air, causing air temperatures to increase, more moisture evaporates from land and lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. (Climate Reality Project)

Deforestation Statistics

  • Forests cover about 30% of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. The rate of deforestation equals the loss of 36 football fields every minute. (Conserve Energy Future)
  • If tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank 3rd in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, behind China and the United States. (World Resources Institute)
  • Tropical tree cover alone can provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed over the next decade to meet goals set in the Paris Agreement. (National Geographic)
  • 250 million people living in forest and savannah areas depend on tropical trees for subsistence and income—many of them among the world’s rural poor. (National Geographic)
  • Some 80% of global deforestation is a result of agricultural production, which is also the leading cause of habitat destruction. Livestock and animal feed is a significant driver of deforestation and is also responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. (Greenpeace)
  • It is estimated that trees in tropical rainforests lower the temperature by 3.6-6.3℉. (Scienceing)
Deforestation at the PT Megakarya Jaya Raya palm oil concession in the Indonesian province of Papua, which supplies major brands in Europe and beyond. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Greenpeace

Desertification Statistics:

  • Soil is the second largest natural carbon sink in its capacity to capture carbon dioxide from air. Rising temperatures are affecting soil moisture. Continuing declines in soil moisture can increase the need for irrigation in agriculture and lead to desertification, with potentially dramatic impacts on food production. (European Environment Agency)
  • Global warming is accelerating desertification. Between 24% and 32% of the globe’s land area could be affected by 2050. (You Matter)
  • The United Nations predicts that within the next 10 years, 50 million people in the drylands will be displaced due to desertification. Thousands of Sub-Saharan and South Asian peoples will be forced to migrate due to the impacts of desertification. (Borgen Project)
  • In 1991, land degradation was approximately 15%. This increased again in 2008 to 24%. Today, the rate of degradation is equivalent to the loss of 12 million hectares of land per year. (Borgen Project)
Desertification effects. Photo by V. Tan/ACNUR

Drought Statistics:

  • 55 million people globally are affected by droughts annually. (WHO)
  • 700 million people are at-risk of being displaced as a result of drought by 2030. (WHO)
  • Global climate change affects a variety of factors associated with drought. Increased temperatures will lead to more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, earlier snow melt, and increased evaporation and transpiration. Thus the risk of drought increases as temperatures rise. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
  • Warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns can lead to droughts. Humans have been influencing global patterns of drought for nearly a century. The future of fresh water will be full of extremes: Droughts will pose serious challenges to the safety, health, food and water supplies of plants, animals and humans in some regions, and floods will do the same in others. (NASA)
  • Artic ice is melting fast. Scientists warn its disappearance is triggering high-pressure ridges that block storms from reaching California, threatening more and bigger droughts for the state. (LA Times)
  • In Somalia, 2.6 million people (nearly 20% of the country’s population) are internally displaced because of violence, flooding, and food insecurity triggered, in part, by drought. (Concern USA)
The carcass of a buffalo lies on the edges of a sun baked pool that used to be a perennial water supply in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe. Wildlife are stressed by lack of food and water in the park, whose very name comes from the four pools of water normally filled by the flooding Zambezi River each rainy season. Photo by AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

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