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Joint Research Centre
World Atlas of Desertification (WAD)

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      THE ATLAS INITIATIVE: WAD


To address complex global challenges, decision makers and environmental managers have to be able to rely on up-to-date information on the state and trends of environmental changes, including land degradation. They have to obtain digestible insight in its causes and effects and be offered routes for solutions. Solutions have to address sustainable land management options and relate to the sustainable development goals.

The JRC is coordinating an international activity to compile a new World Atlas of Desertification (WAD) as reference on where biophysical and socio-economic processes are on-going that on their own or combined can lead to land degradation and in extreme cases to desertification. This endeavor is undertaken in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and in collaboration with a vast network of the best experts worldwide. Stakeholder parties of the UN Convention for Combating Desertification (UNCCD), to which the European Commission and all EU Member States are signatory parties, suggested the need for such initiative.

Following on from the second version of the World Atlas of Desertification that dates back to 1997 and was published by UNEP, the new WAD fully reflects the acknowledgement of the anthropocene concept. This concept has been introduced to describe the current era in which the human actions have become the main driver of global environmental change. The WAD recognizes that human societies and their use of the land are on the one hand drivers of land degradation, but on the other hand they are also the key to sustainable solutions of this global problem. The interactions of societal processes that impact on biophysical conditions are manifold. They are also driven by a variety of human needs that condition the land use and, hence, create different expectations and perceptions on the condition of the land. 

This complexity underlying land degradation, it is not amenable to single global maps that can satisfy all views, needs or situations. This WAD builds on a systematic framework of providing convergence of evidence of the human-environment interactions and their trends to identify pathways of land degradation or restoration and attempts to locate these globally.

The main sections in the new WAD deal with :

  •  human dominance
  •  feeding a growing population
  •  limits to sustainability
  •  converging evidence
  •  solutions – towards land degradation neutrality