Celebrated annually on June 17, the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought has a theme of turning degraded land into healthy land. Because nearly three quarters of the Earth’s ice-free land has been altered by humans to meet an ever-growing demand for food, raw materials, highways and homes.
Carbon’s Impact on the Largest Desert of the World

Avoiding, slowing and reversing the loss of productive land and natural ecosystems now is both urgent and important for a green recovery from the pandemic; for slowing down climate change; helping biodiversity restoration; bringing economic resilience; creating jobs; raising incomes and increasing food security according to a recent study from the Netherlands Environmental Assesment Agency1.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment of Costa Rica, is hosting the global observance of this day with digital events that include art shows which are also on exhibit at the London Climate Action Week running from June 26 to July 4, 2021 and Climate Week New York running from September 20-26, 20212.


The Largest Desert on Earth is Impacted by Carbon

The largest desert on earth is the Antarctic desert, covering the continent of Antarctica with a size of around 5.4 million square miles.   

The 5 largest deserts on earth

  • Antarctic Polar Desert: 14 million km² (5.4 million square miles).
  • Arctic Polar Desert: 13.7 million km² (5.3 million square miles).
  • Sahara Desert: 9.2 million km² (3.5 million square miles).
  • Arabian Desert: 2.3 million km² (800,000 square miles).
  • Gobi Desert: 1.295 million km² (500,000 square miles).

A desert is defined by the amount of precipitation in an area. A region that receives very little precipitation  is classified as a desert. The average yearly rainfall at the South Pole over the past 30 years was 10 mm (0.4 in). In some parts it hasn’t snowed or rained for 14 million years. It is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent that is approximately 98 per cent covered by the ice sheet, which 90 million years ago, was a lush, green rainforest according to a study. At its deepest, Antarctica’s ice is 4.5km (2.7 miles) thick. So, if it melted, global sea levels would rise about 60 m (200 ft).  

Pat Hamilton, Director, Global Change Initiative at the Science Museum of Minnesota explained that “the Museum's  first exhibit  wholly devoted to climate change was in 2001 with Polar Thaw – a temporary display of images by the photographer Gary Braasch about global warming in the Arctic and Antarctic” which is caused by man-made carbon emissions.   

Rising global temperatures from excess carbon emissions continue to melt the ice in Antarctica, with scientists predicting serious problems in the coming decades — including rising sea levels, devastating storms, temperatures rising even faster because there’s less ice to reflect heat according to a research report3. The collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet, could have already been  crossed. Another study by a team of scientists, led by the University of St Andrews published by the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat (CBD), has shown that rapid CO2 release from the ocean around Antarctica helped to end the last ice age4.   

The Science Museum of Minnesota has an environmental experiment called the "Science House" which is both a vibrant teaching space and is designed to operate as a zero-emissions building powered by solar energy5. Because one benefit to utilizing solar power, is that in addition to being a zero CO2 energy source, it may also create a more humid environment that causes vegetation to spread to combat desertification according to a study. 

But no matter how many solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars are built between now and 2030, the world won’t meet its increasingly ambitious climate targets under the Paris Agreement without a lot of help from forests, fields and oceans says a report published by CBD6.

The challenges of biodiversity decline, climate change and human well-being are closely connected, and need to be jointly addressed. Because the desertification, destruction of forests and other ecosystems undermines nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and protect against extreme weather impacts - accelerating climate change and increasing vulnerability to it, according to a joint report by the U.N. agencies on climate change and biodiversity7

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 calls for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, to halt the degradation of ecosystems and restore them to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to the objectives of the three ‘Rio Conventions’ on Climate, Biodiversity, and Desertification.   

Ahead of London Climate Action Week, G7 Ministers responsible for Climate and Environment accelerated action on environmental issues by committing for the first time to properly include considerations around climate change and biodiversity loss in the economic and financial decision-making process — and to make climate-related financial disclosures mandatory across their respective economies. In November 2020, the United Kingdom became the first country to commit to doing so. The push toward mandatory reporting is being discussed by the wider group of G-20 nations as well. It is expected that nations will agree to mandatory climate-related financial disclosures across their respective economies ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November8

“As we continue to address the ongoing pandemic, we acknowledge with grave concern that the unprecedented and interdependent crises of climate change and biodiversity loss pose an existential threat to nature, people, prosperity and security. We recognize that some of the key drivers of global biodiversity loss and climate change are the same as those that increase the risk of zoonoses, which can lead to pandemics. We highlight that urgent and concrete action is needed to move towards global sustainability, further mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as halt and reverse biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. We recognize that climate change and the health of the natural environment are intrinsically linked and will ensure that the actions we take maximize the opportunities to solve these crises in parallel.” So far 100 countries specify the restoration of almost 1 billion hectares of land over the next decade.




1. https://www.pbl.nl/en/publications/the-global-potential-for-land-restoration-scenarios-for-the-global-land-outlook-
2. https://www.unccd.int/actions17-june-desertification-and-drought-day2021-desertification-and-drought-day/2021-events
3. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/melting-antarctica-glacier-could-sea-level/
4. https://www.cbd.int/kb/record/newsHeadlines/118671?RecordType=newsHeadlines&Subject=RS
5. https://www.smm.org/educators/science-house/about.
6. https://www.cbd.int/kb/record/newsHeadlines/128389?FreeText=solar
7. https://www.ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2021-06/20210609_scientific_outcome.pdf
8. https://cointelegraph.com/news/pronouncements-from-the-g-7-allow-green-fintech-to-flourish
9. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/g7-climate-and-environment-ministers-meeting-may-2021-communique/g7-climate-and-environment-ministers-communique-london-21-may-2021


A Alice Hooffmans

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