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First-ever global Rangelands Atlas gives new view of rangeland landscapes

A starting point to preventing, halting and restoring the degradation of rangelands worldwide

A rangeland landscape near Khulungira village in central Malawi. Mann/ILRI
1 June 2021

By Marco Buemi, a consultant for WWF and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as a photojournalist and sustainable development adviser, and Fiona Flintan, a senior scientist at ILRI.

At the Global Landscapes Forum in New York 2019, “We just don’t know!” was the answer we gave when asked how much of the world rangelands cover. And we highlighted the urgent need to fill the big data gaps in our understanding of rangelands – their distribution, their value and the changes taking place within and across them.

This week, thanks to a collaboration between ILRI, FAO, IUCN, UNEP, WWF and the ILC Rangelands Initiative, we are much closer to answering that question. Now, we can confidently say that, broadly speaking, rangelands cover 54 percent of the world’s terrestrial area, totaling just over 79 million square kilometers. Rangelands include different biomes, from desert to grasslands and from savannah to Mediterranean forests. Within these areas, livestock farming plays a crucial role, affecting 84 percent of the global territory, equaling 45 percent of the Earth’s surface. Protected areas within rangelands cover 7 percent of the world, while 1 percent are recognized as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs).

These figures and other important data on rangelands can now be found in the first-ever global Rangelands Atlas, launched on 26 May 2021 by Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The Atlas serves as a key reference document for the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration being launched this week (5 June 2021). As Thiaw highlighted, rangelands play a vital role in global food production, biodiversity conservation and the achievement of a number of other Sustainable Development Goals. “Let us focus on rangelands so we can build a greener, healthier, more peaceful and more sustainable future,” he said.

Hear an introduction to the Atlas from the global partners.

Currently, the Atlas presents 16 sets of maps covering issues from protected areas and forests to livestock production systems, and from land degradation neutrality to climate change. The maps have been made by combining a base map of rangelands with already available global datasets. Data generated during the mapping process is provided.

Each map is accompanied by an experience or initiative of a local community representative living in rangelands or an organization working to protect, revive and restore them. The Atlas is a living document, and more maps will continue to be added over the coming months. A copy of the Atlas be downloaded from the Rangelands Atlas website.

The Rangelands Atlas will be discussed in a special session on Wednesday, 2 June 2021 at 9:30 EAT as part of the Global Landscapes Forum’s upcoming digital conference Restoring Africa’s Drylands: Accelerating Action On the Ground. Register here.


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