Semi-arid areas, defined as those areas of the world where water is an important limitation for plant growth, have become the subject of increased interest due to the impacts of current global changes and sustainability of human lifestyles. While many ground-based reports of declining vegetation productivity have been published over the last decades, a number of recent publications have shown a nuanced and, for some regions, positive picture. With this background, the paper provides an analysis of trends in vegetation greenness of semi-arid areas using AVHRR GIMMS from 1981 to 2007. The vegetation index dataset is used as a proxy for vegetation productivity and trends are analyzed for characterization of changes in semi-arid vegetation greenness. Calculated vegetation trends are analyzed with gridded data on potential climatic constraints to plant growth to explore possible causes of the observed changes. An analysis of changes in the seasonal variation of vegetation greenness and climatic drivers is conducted for selected regions to further understand the causes of observed inter-annual vegetation changes in semi-arid areas across the globe. It is concluded that semi-arid areas, across the globe, on average experience an increase in greenness (0.015 NDVI units over the period of analysis). Further it is observed that increases in greenness are found both in semi-arid areas where precipitation is the dominating limiting factor for plant production (0.019 NDVI units) and in semi-arid areas where air temperature is the primarily growth constraint (0.013 NDVI units). Finally, in the analysis of changes in the intra-annual variation of greenness it is found that seemingly similar increases in greenness over the study period may have widely different explanations. This implies that current generalizations, claiming that land degradation is ongoing in semi-arid areas worldwide, are not supported by the satellite based analysis of vegetation greenness. (c) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.