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European Commission - Press release

Launch of the Economics of Land Degradation initiative: Commission promotes scheme to identify the costs of land degradation worldwide

Brussels, 21 September 2011 - In New York European Development Commissioner Piebalgs participated in the launch of the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) initiative. This event is taking place in the context of an UN-sponsored meeting to address land degradation and desertification. The ELD initiative will be a comprehensive assessment of land degradation that looks both at the costs of failing to prevent further land degradation and at the economic benefits of addressing it through sustainable land management policies.

In his speech Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said: "Land degradation is a serious global issue, which has a significant impact on food security, climate change and biodiversity loss. I hope the study will find a broad coalition of partners to give it the further impetus it requires and the impact that the issues deserve."

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "We tend to take soil for granted. But soil is a non-renewable resource so could actually run out or become impoverished if we do not take proper care of it. We are all affected by land degradation, directly or indirectly, but have little idea of the actual costs, so this is a very welcome initiative."

Land degradation is a growing problem around the world. The proportion of land subject to desertification and land degradation is increasing year by year. There are a number of pressures driving this trend, including unsustainable land use as a result of demographic changes, unsustainable consumption and production patterns and growing pressure on water sources, exacerbated by climatic changes and drought.

The problem does not just affect arid zones. Within the EU, some 12 Member States have declared themselves affected by desertification and almost half of European soils are now poor in organic matter.

In order to address the problems there is a need for more coherent policies worldwide and for measures in affected countries to address the issue at an early stage. The EU sees the ELD initiative as a means of developing a clearer understanding of the full costs of land degradation and is therefore actively involved. The global study should raise awareness of this issue and help policy-makers in affected countries to implement effective strategies to address the problem. It will also help the private sector to set out clearly incentives for investment in sustainable land management policies. The aim is to build on our experience with similar reports on the costs of climate change and the economic value of biodiversity.

Next Steps

The European Commission, the German Federal Government and the Secretariat of the UN Convention Combating Desertification are promoting the initiative. The task now is to expand the ELD initiative and establish a sound political, financial and administrative foundation for its work. The initiative is open to contributions from governments and the private sector, from multilateral and bilateral donors, and from foundations and development organisations. Cooperation has been sought with NGOs, international businesses, financial institutions, farmers and agricultural associations, and universities and research institutions to ensure that it can be an independent and cross-sectoral scientific assessment.


In its external policies, the EU has consistently highlighted the importance of sustainable land management. It funds a broad range of actions and programmes to address land degradation in developing countries, and develop the knowledge-base on the current extent of land degradation and on sustainable land management practices. In this regard, it is important to promote an approach that takes into account local and regional conditions, combining traditional knowledge with new and emerging technologies. Key examples of regional initiatives in Africa are TerrAfrica, the Sub Sahara wide framework promoting sustainable land management, and the Great Green Wall Initiative for the Sahara and the Sahel, which aim to mitigate the risk of desertification while at the same time alleviating poverty.

Further information:

See the brochure on action against land degradation and desertification at:

Environment and development:


Link to UN high level meeting on land degradation and desertification:

Contacts :

Catherine Ray (+32 2 296 99 21)

Wojtek Talko (+32 2 297 85 51)

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)

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