The damage to our land & seas

We are destroying nature

Our planet is changing more than ever before. We are cutting down our forests, degrading our land, exploiting our seas, and polluting our soil. We are currently in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction and witnessing an alarming decline in biodiversity. Our food system, and with it food waste, is the number one contributing factor that drives this threatening change in nature through land use change, pollution, and climate change (GlobalGoalsUN, 2019).

Current rates of deforestation

  • Forests still cover 30% of our planet's landmass, but they are rapidly disappearing (World Bank, 2019; National Geographic, 2019)
  • The world’s response to climate change – in terms of adaptation, mitigation and resilience – must focus more on forests (FAO, 2019)
  • Every 48 hours we lose a forest area the size of NYC (Global Citizen, 2017)
  • We are currently losing 39 million acres of forests annually, which is equivalent to the size of Bangladesh and 40 soccer fields every minute (Global Forest Watch, 2017)
  • The tropics lost 12 million hectares of tree cover in 2018. Of greatest concern is the disappearance of 3.6 million hectares of primary rainforest, an area the size of Belgium (Global Forest Watch, 2018)
  • If the current rate of deforestation continues, it will take less than 100 years to destroy all rainforests on Earth (The Guardian, 2017)
  • Forests are vital carbon sinks. Each year, they absorb over two billion tons of carbon, but due to deforestation, they then release it as CO2, further accelerating climate change (FAO, 2005; FAO 2019)
  • Deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for around 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions (WWF, 2019), while emissions sources are diverse (Pendrill, 2019)
  • Forests are an essential part of life on Earth, with 300 million people worldwide living in forests, 1.6 billion depending on them for their livelihoods, and 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity calling it Home (WWF, 2019)
  • Forest cover is constantly changing, so keep yourself updated with the interactive (Global Forest Watch, 2019)
  • Want to dig deeper into the issue? Then access the Global Forest Watch data

Current rates of land & soil degradation

  • Humanity has developed agricultural systems which rely on monocultures, artificial fertilizers and pesticides that harm biodiversity (Population Matters, 2019)
  • Land degradation over the next 25 years may reduce global food production by up to 12%, resulting in a possible 30% increase in world food prices (Pender, 2009)
  • 52% of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation (UNCCD & UNEP, 2014)
  • 75% of land has been "severely altered" by human activities (IBPES, 2019)
  • Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years, primarily due to soil erosion (WWF, 2019; Rainforest Conservation Fund, 2019)
  • Forest loss and degradation is estimated to cost the world economy up to £3 trillion each year in losses to the “natural capital” that provides us with these ecosystem services (WWF, 2014)
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface (UN, 2019)

Current rates of sea degradation

  • Wetlands, which provide clean water and fish, are being destroyed three times faster than forests (WWF, 2018)
  • 80% of pollution to the marine environment comes from the land. One of the biggest sources is called nonpoint source pollution, which occurs as a result of runoff (NOAA, 2019; PES, 2019)
  • Coral reefs are facing growing challenges from the local to global effects of human activities (Hoegh-Guldberg, 2017) and 50% of all coral reefs have now been lost (WWF, 2015)
  • Global by-catch may amount to the 40% of the world's catch (Oceana, 2014)
  • Global fisheries face extreme pressures from overfishing and climate change. It is estimated that the maximum sustainable yield dropped by an unprecedented 4.1% (Free et al., 2019)
  • Fish are being exploited as never before, with 33% of fish stocks harvested at unsustainable levels (UN, 2019)
  • Today’s seas absorb as much as a quarter of all man-made carbon emissions, which changes the pH of surface waters, leads to acidification and harms fish populations (NRDC, 2018)
  • Acidification is occurring at a rate that is faster than any other period in the past 65 million years (WWF, 2015)

Current rates of biodiversity loss

  • Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security, sustainable development and the supply of many vital ecosystem services (FAO, 2019)
  • A loss in biodiversity also means a loss in genetic diversity. This poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change (IPBES, 2019)
  • Producing crop to feed livestock and our consumption leads to 60% of all biodiversity loss (WWF, 2018)
  • Of all the mammals on Earth, 96% are livestock and humans, while only 4% are wild mammals. Since the rise of human civilisation 83% of wild mammals have been lost (The Guardian, 2018)
  • Humans are now driving the sixth mass extinction event (Ceballos et al., 2017) - biodiversity loss continues at unprecedented rates that are 1000 times faster than it should without anthropogenic activities (Slingenberg et al., 2009)
  • Pollinators are in steep decline due to land use change and the use of pesticides in agriculture (CEH, 2018)
  • We are threatening the extinction of 1 million species (National Geographic, 2019)
  • One in four species are at risk of extinction (IUCN, 2019)
  • Natural ecosystems have declined by 47% on average (IBPES, 2019)
  • The ocean is estimated to be free of fish and seafood by 2048 at current rates (Worm et al., 2006)
  • We are currently very far away from reaching the Aichi Biodiversity Goals (CBD, 2019)

The expansion of agriculture & croplands

  • Food production is the largest anthropogenic use of land, using 50% of habitable land (UNEP, 2019) as crop- or grazing lands
  • If agricultural land productivity remains at its current levels, an estimated 6 million hectares of land (roughly equivalent to the size of Norway) would need to be converted to agricultural production every year until at least 2030 to satisfy the growing demand (Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, 2012)
  • Agricultural clearance is responsible for three quarters of all tropical deforestation (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2013)
  • Agriculture, is the most significant driver of deforestation in tropical and subtropical countries, accounting for 80% of deforestation, but varies greatly by region (Global Forest Atlas, 2010)
  • If trends continue, about 10 million km2 of land will likely be cleared by 2050 to meet demand (Tilman et al., 2011)
  • An area 1.5 times the size of the EU would be saved from agricultural production if the amount of animal products eaten globally was reduced to meet nutritional requirements (WWF, 2017)
  • The big four drivers of deforestation: beef, soy, wood and palm oil (Global Forest Coalition, 2018)
  • 80% of agricultural land in OECD countries is dedicated to feeding animals (SIWI, 2012)
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of the Amazon's deforestation (Rainforest Foundation, 2019)

Food waste as a driver for this unprecedented land use change

  • Nearly 30% of the world's agricultural land is currently occupied to produce food that is ultimately never consumed (FAO, 2013)
  • Around 1.4 billion hectares of land - an area greater than China and an area three times the size of the European Union - is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted (FAO, 2016; EatResponsibly, 2019) 
  • The amount of cropland used to grow wasted food is 198 million hectares per year, an area about the size of Mexico (Lipinski et al., 2013)
  • 28 million tons of fertilizer are used annually to grow this wasted food - 19% of all fertiliser (FAO, 2016)
  • To give you an throwing away 1 liter of milk, one wastes 1.5 m2 of land (UNCCD, 2014)
  • The more food that we waste, the more food we need to produce. This constant need to produce more puts additional pressure on the environment (LoveFoodHateWaste, 2019)