Life on land

  • Global trends underscore persistent challenges to biodiversity and forests, despite their critical roles as planetary life-support systems. Global forest area continues to decline, primarily due to agricultural expansion, despite notable progress in sustainable forest management. Alarmingly, species are silently becoming extinct, the protection of key biodiversity areas has stalled and global illicit wildlife trafficking has steadily increased, posing serious threats to biodiversity and the benefits it provides to people.
  • Efforts are under way to tackle these challenges, with countries advancing implementation of access and benefit-sharing instruments and integrating biodiversity values into national accounting systems. There’s also a growing global commitment to biodiversity conservation, reflected in increased funding and the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
  • Urgent action is imperative. Addressing pressing environmental challenges and their underlying drivers and interconnections – including climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, desertification and deforestation – demands

  • A national park manager surveys tree nursery saplings in a desert area of central Saudi Arabia that is being regreened to combat land degradation, desertification and drought.

     © UNEP/Duncan Moore

    intensified, accelerated efforts, and a comprehensive and integrated approach at local, national and global levels.

    Reducing deforestation depends on improving food security, income and land rights

    Between 2000 and 2020, the proportion of forest cover decreased from 31.9 per cent to 31.2 per cent of total land area, resulting in net forest area losses of nearly 100 million hectares. Agricultural expansion drove almost 90 per cent of global deforestation; cropland accounted for 49.6 per cent and livestock grazing for 38.5 per cent. Globally, small-scale farming caused 68 per cent of agriculture-driven deforestation, while large-scale farming contributed to 32 per cent. In Africa, small-scale farming was responsible for 97 per cent of agriculture-driven deforestation. Forest losses due to large-scale farming were highest in South America at 48 per cent (mainly linked to livestock grazing), followed by Asia at 38 per cent (primarily due to large-scale crop production, particularly for oil palm plantations).

    These findings suggest that efforts to reduce deforestation must tackle production system weaknesses while addressing critical needs such as food security, income and land tenure rights for local communities. Stemming deforestation also demands a comprehensive approach blending regulatory measures, market incentives and stakeholder collaboration to promote sustainable land management and preserve forest ecosystems.

    The main drivers of global deforestation, 2000–2018 (percentage)
    Note: “Other drivers” refers to severe degradation affecting natural regeneration whereby forests are transformed into bare soil or other wooded land. Due to rounding, percentages may not add up to 100 per cent.
    Share of regional agriculture-driven deforestation associated with large-scale and small-scale livestock and cropland, 2000–2018 (percentage)
    Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add up to 100 per cent.

    Risks to species continue to escalate globally

    Global biodiversity faces ongoing threats, evidenced by a 12 per cent deterioration in the Red List Index between 1993 and 2024. Over 44,000 species, or 28 per cent of almost 160,000 assessed species, are currently threatened. They include 70 per cent of cycads and 41 per cent of amphibians. The latter are particularly impacted by climate change, habitat conversion and invasive fungal disease. For example, Buckley’s glass frog, assessed as Critically Endangered and found only in the Ecuadorian Andes, faces increased extinction risk due to habitat loss from expanding agriculture and livestock grazing, fungal disease and climate change. Regionally, severe biodiversity declines across all species groups are evident in Central and Southern Asia as well as in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. Stopping the ongoing decline in biodiversity is an urgent race against time, making accelerated conservation efforts imperative to safeguard the irreplaceable and intricate web of life on the planet.

    Red List Index of species survival, 1993 and 2024
    *Excluding Australia and New Zealand.
    Note: A Red List Index value of 1.0 means that all species are categorized as of “Least Concern”; hence, none are expected to become extinct in the near future. A value of zero indicates that all species have gone extinct.

    The share of illegally traded wildlife has been on the rise since 2017 and peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Illegal wildlife trade persists worldwide despite two decades of concerted action at international and national levels and poses a significant threat to global biodiversity, endangering a wide range of terrestrial and marine species. Illegal trade has affected around 4,000 plant and animal species in 162 countries and territories from 2015 to 2021. This exploitation jeopardizes the survival of species and undermines ecosystem functions, especially when compounded by other pressures, such as habitat loss and climate change.

    Recent estimates indicate that the intercepted illegal wildlife trade as a proportion of all wildlife trade (legal and illegal) has been on the rise since 2017, peaking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wildlife seizures comprised over 1.9 and 1.4 per cent of global wildlife trade in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Trends likely reflect a disproportionate reduction in legal trade during the pandemic and an increase in enforcement efforts for certain wildlife commodities. For instance, more wildlife seizures were primarily attributed to new regulations targeting high-value timber species from South America, alongside intensified enforcement actions.

    Trend in the proportion of wildlife trade represented by wildlife seizures, 2016-2021 (percentage)

    Detrimental land cover changes are impacting mountain ecosystems

    Between 2015 and 2019, at least 100 million hectares of productive land were degraded annually, adversely impacting global food and water security. This degradation, driven by changes in land use and coverage, significantly contributes to biodiversity loss, including in fragile mountain ecosystems. The widespread transformation of mountain ecosystems is due to various natural and human-induced factors, such as climate change, natural hazards, unplanned agriculture and urbanization, timber extraction and recreation. Globally, only about a third of mountain Key Biodiversity Areas are safeguarded by protected areas or other effective area-based conservation measures.

    Global data from 2000 to 2018 indicate that degradation affects about 1.6 per cent of the world’s mountainous areas. The highest proportion of degraded mountain land is in the alpine areas of Europe and Northern America (2.29 per cent), followed by the montane areas of Central and Southern Asia (2.22 per cent) and the lower mountain belts of Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (2.17 per cent). Mountain ecosystem degradation threatens downstream water provision, through reduced glacial coverage, as well as biodiversity and other ecosystem services, thereby undermining efforts to protect terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Furthermore, diminished forest and vegetation coverage increase soil erosion, heightening the risk of downstream landslides and flooding.

    Proportion of degraded mountain land by bioclimatic belt, 2015 and 2018 (percentage)
    *Excluding Australia and New Zealand.