Focus More on Rangelands: Environmentalists

Focus More on Range Lands: Environmentalists

Grass, shrubs and hardy vegetation ( rangelands) spreads over 54 per cent of the world’s land yet climate plans focus less on these areas, leaving these massive stretches exposed to threats from several quarters.

These shrubs and greener vegetation other than forests support millions of pastoralists, ranchers and large populations of wildlife, and store large amounts of carbon.  However, most of the climate plans focus mainly on forest stretches and ignore these pastures, according to new Rangelands Atlas. The atlas is a first of its kind inventory compiled by international environmental, conservation and agricultural organisations. International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Wide Fund for NatureUN Environment Programme and the International Land Coalition have compiled the Atlas with contributions from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


While coming out with the Rangelands Atlas, the organisations wanted to make these stretches part of policy discussions. Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which collaborated on the Rangeland Atlas pointed out that the world for the first time knew the exact coverage of rangeland. Now, the world knows the importance of focussing on rangelands she added.

The authors said that rangelands rarely featured on international agendas. As part of the Paris Climate Agreement, just 10 per cent of national climate plans include references to these green lands when compared to 70 per cent of references to forests.


The Rangelands Atlas captures key elements of the importance of rangelands, a large portion of which are dry, desert-like areas, for supporting people, wildlife and vegetation. It outlined that 70 per cent of Mongolia is rangelands. It also said that In Chad, grazing livestock across remote tracts of parched rangelands accounted for 11 per cent of GDP. Moreover, they also talk of the Northern Great Plains in the United States. The plains are one of the world’s four remaining intact temperate grasslands that support plants, birds and reptile species and providing home to several Native American nations.


The Atlas also warns that the rangelands are under threat because of large-scale industrial agriculture. They point out that these grass stretches are being lost at a faster pace than the destruction of Amazon rainforest.

The Atlas says that only 12 per cent of rangelands are designated as protected areas. The rest is under threat of conversion, particularly for croplands. More than 60 per cent of wild lands and woodlands have been converted in the past three centuries. This comes to an area larger than North America and an area approximately the size of Australia (7.45 million square km).

Tarawali  has called for management and use of rangelands at the highest levels to achieve climate, nature and food goals. “Our hope is that rangelands will be included at upcoming UN conferences on biodiversity, climate, land and food,” she said.

Badi Besbes, Head Animal Production and Genetics Unit, FAO pointed out that rangelands helped in keeping carbon in the ground and offer necessary space for renewable energy like wind and solar.

Meanwhile, Karina Berg, Global Grasslands and Savannahs Initiative Lead, WWF claimed that the new Atlas explained for the first time the extent of rangelands and highlighted the need to address its destruction. “The protection, management and restoration of the rich and varied ecosystems of rangelands is fundamental and their relevance must be reflected within global conservation agendas,” she said

International Union for Conservation of Nature Global Coordinator, Jonathan Davies noted that the new Atlas was a long-awaited evidence that these green patches need to be greatly elevated as an investment and policy priority in order to achieve sustainable development worldwide.


The Rangelands Atlas has been developed to document and raise awareness on the enormous environmental, economic and social value of rangelands as well as their different ecosystems. It highlights many of the changes taking place in grass lands due to climate change, land use and conversion trends, investments and other changes.

Drawing on publicly available data, this Atlas provides a preliminary set of maps that illustrate the complex nature of the green fields found around the world. Furthermore, the Rangeland Atlas reflects a strengthening, global movement to protect, restore and appropriately invest in rangelands.


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