UN: 25% of Earth's ice-free land subject to 'human-induced degradation'

krungchingpixs/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- About one-quarter of all non-ice land on the planet has been subjected to "human-induced degradation," with soil eroding up to 100 times faster than it forms and many natural resources being exploited at rates never before seen, according to the United Nations.

"Climate change exacerbates land degradation, particularly in low-lying coastal areas, river deltas, drylands and in permafrost areas," according to a summary of a report released Thursday by the International Panel on Climate Change. "Over the period 1961-2013, the annual area of drylands in drought has increased, on average by slightly more than 1% per year."

People in southern and eastern Asia, northern Africa and the Middle East likely will bear the brunt of the effects from continued depletion of vital water and land resources, according to the summary.

The report is part of a series the U.N. plans to produce on climate change in the buildup to a climate summit next month in New York.

Zeke Hausfather, an analyst will the non-profit research group Berkeley Earth, said it's important to look at the impact of climate change on land separately from global averages because that will affect people the most.

"The whole world has warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees Fahrenheit, from the pre-industrial period, but if you look at the land areas they warm about 50% faster," he told ABC News, adding that the difference is partly because oceans have more capacity to absorb heat.

Berkeley Earth's analysis of land-surface temperatures over the last 250 years have found that those temperatures have increased about 1.5 degrees Celsius in the same time period, with about 0.9 degrees of that occurring in the last 50 years.

He said warming in the Arctic or Alaska would be better indicators of the impact of warmer temperatures on land, where, he said, some areas have seen average increases as high as 3 or 4 degrees Celsius. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week said the temperatures in Alaska this July were the highest on record, almost 5.5 degrees hotter than the average summer month.

Hausfather said that while most of the focus in the U.S. tends to be on domestic impacts of climate change, it's the countries that contribute less greenhouse gases that are the most impacted by the warming climate through drought, increased heat stress or flooding from sea-level rise.

"One of the big challenges of climate change is the many ways the people who are least responsible for climate change are the most affected," he said. "You can build a sea wall around Manhattan -- it's a lot harder to build one in Bangladesh."

Previous reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have raised concerns about the world's progress to meet the goal set in the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. A report released by the panel of hundreds of scientists last year has often been cited for warning that greenhouse gas emissions need to be drastically reduced as quickly as possible to limit warming from reaching levels where the effects could become "irreversible."

The last five years have been the warmest in recorded history, according to NOAA.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.