Land matters. It is worth putting it as bluntly as that. It feeds and nourishes us. It provides fuel to warm us and the homes we live in. Its loss is a real-world driver and amplifier of instability. Humans will fight to defend their land and kill to grab enough land for their needs. It matters more than we recognize, and more than political decision makers dare to calculate. But let us be clear—the foundation of our homes is on shaky ground.

As the global population expands dramatically toward a total of more than 9.5 billion people by 2050, demand for the goods and services that the land provides will only get stronger. In the context of a changing climate, as demand starts to outstrip supply, competition for this increasingly scarce and valuable productive resource will only heat up. As the loss of productive land and soil continues at an alarming rate, we expect to see declining food production and more hunger. The natural end point of these trends is mass forced migration, radicalization and deadly conflict in climate change and land degradation hot-spots. The so-called developing world, where natural infrastructure and resource governance mechanisms are often weakest and most vulnerable, is at the greatest risk. It will be hit hardest. However, in an interconnected world, no region or community is immune. No country can rest on its laurels.

That is the reality. Yet, you will see that if decision makers are bold enough, there is a chance that we can put our house in some semblance of order and strengthen its foundations. Land and soil are set to be a fundamental part of the Sustainable Development Goals for post-2015 implementation. Achieving land degradation neutrality will be a crucial first step. From the community to the national level, we must stop the loss of healthy and productive land by avoiding degradation wherever we can and by rehabilitating already degraded land. More well-managed land means more food and water available, more of the ecosystems we enjoy, less forced environmental migration, and a greater chance of security and peace in an unstable world.

Work on securing our land resources also needs to start now because sustainable land and soil management can buy valuable time in the fight against climate change—time that is desperately needed. Land and soil is the second-largest carbon sink, after the oceans. Getting carbon back in the soil could buy the 30 years that we may need to move to a low-carbon economy. It could also get vulnerable populations, who are already experiencing climate change impacts and resource scarcity, time to adapt.

So this book could not have come at a more opportune moment. It brings together findings from various levels of governance and experiences from diverse stakeholder communities toward a viable solution to one of the most pressing issues of our time.

We see all around us how fragile peace and stability can be. It is fragile precisely because we have ripped the ground from underneath people’s feet. By addressing the real world drivers of instability, we can build resilience to shocks of every sort. Sustainable land management can diffuse competition and conflict and put solid ground under the most vulnerable. It is a foundation for the future—if we are daring enough to just grab it.

Monique Barbut

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)