By Jaya Ramachandran
Land degradation is one of the planet’s most pressing global challenges. A third of the world’s land is degraded. But the good news is that by the end of the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on September 16, 2017 in China’s Ordos City, 113 countries had agreed to specify concrete targets, with clear indicators, to reverse degradation and rehabilitate more land.
A new global roadmap to address land degradation was also agreed. The UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is regarded as the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in order to restore the productivity of vast swathes of degraded land, improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people, and to reduce the impacts of drought on vulnerable populations.
“Some battles took place, but you took bold measures for our Convention. We have a new strategic framework and a new reporting cycle. We have a Drought Initiative. We have taken fundamental decisions on gender, capacity-building, migration and sand and dust storms,” said Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary.
Established in 1994, the UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention – with 195 parties – addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
The Conference from September 6-16 in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China, also witnessed the birth of the first global private sector fund dedicated to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), endorsed in September 2015 by the international community. Known as the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund (LDN Fund), it will be a source of transformative capital bringing together public and private investors to fund projects to restore degraded lands, which come with environment, economic and social benefits.
With an initial target size of USD 300 million fund capital, the LDN Fund is co-promoted by Mirova, an affiliate of Natixis Global Asset Management that is dedicated to socially responsible investment, and the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD. A separately-operated Technical Assistance Facility (TAF) will advise the Fund on the development of promising sustainable land use activities in order to build a strong portfolio of projects.
Another highlight of the Ordos gathering was the unveiling of a landmark publication, The Global Land Outlook (GLO), which spotlighted the urgency for swift action. It reported that 20 percent of the world’s land has become degraded in just the last two decades.
“Consumption of the earth’s natural reserves has doubled in the last 30 years, with a third of the planet’s land now severely degraded. Each year, we lose 15 billion trees and 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil. Smallholder farmers, women and indigenous communities are the most vulnerable, given their reliance on land-based resources, compounded by their exclusion from wider infrastructure and economic development,” notes the GLO.
Currently, more than 1.3 billion people are trapped on degrading agricultural land, drastically increasing competition for crucial ecosystem services such as food, water and energy. The GLO draws on an analysis of recent trends in land productivity and modelling of land demand scenarios up to the year 2050. It outlines how reversing trends in the condition of land resources could accelerate efforts to achieve many of the SDGs, by adopting more efficient planning and sustainable practices.
Speaking at the launch, UNCCD Executive Secretary Barbut said, “Land degradation and drought are global challenges and intimately linked to most, if not all aspects of human security and well-being – food security, employment and migration, in particular.”
As the ready supply of healthy and productive land dries up and the population grows, competition is intensifying, for land within countries and globally, she added, and as the competition increases, there are winners and losers.
“To minimize the losses, The Outlook suggests it is in all our interests to step back and rethink how we are managing the pressures and the competition. The Outlook presents a vision for transforming the way in which we use and manage land because we are all decision-makers and our choices can make a difference – even small steps matter,” Barbut stressed.
Welcoming the UNCCD’s new flagship publication, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said: “Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and about one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk. They include many of the world‘s poorest and most marginalized people. Achieving land degradation neutrality can provide a healthy and productive life for all on Earth, including water and food security. The Global Land Outlook shows that each of us can in fact make a difference, and I hope that in the next edition we are able to tell even more stories of better land use and management.”
This landmark publication on the current and future state of the world’s land resources is the first in-depth analysis of the multiple functions of the land viewed from a wide range of interrelated sectors and thematic areas, such as the food-water-land nexus, as well as the ‘less obvious’ drivers of land use change, notably the nature of economic growth, consumer choice and global trade patterns. Crucially, the report examines a growing disconnect between the financial and socio-economic values of the land and how this affects the poor.
The first edition of the GLO was published by the UNCCD secretariat, based in Bonn, with the support of numerous partners, including the European Commission, the Governments of Korea, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and UNDP.
To reaffirm the progress made at the summit, more than 80 Ministers from around the world issued the Ordos Declaration urging countries to step up efforts on all fronts to tackle desertification – one of the planet’s most pressing global challenges.
“The Ordos Declaration reaffirms the contribution of ecological services to food security, private sector, civil society and youth…. It also recognizes the importance of addressing climate change, protecting biodiversity and addressing food security,” said Zhang Jianlong, China’s Minister of State Forestry Administration, while closing the Conference.
He said the Convention will pay attention to regional hotspots and intensify cooperation, and underlined the Belt and Road Cooperation Mechanism that will support capacity building along the Silk Road in the region.
The Conference also took action to address three new and emerging issues linked to increasing land degradation – drought, sand and dust storms and migration. Sand and dust storms threaten the health of millions of people across the globe, and is a major concern in China where the Conference took place.
“Equally, drought mitigation,” Barbut asserted, “would for the first time be an area of focus under the New Strategy.” National drought policies with effective early warning systems would be crucial in promoting vulnerability assessment and risk mitigation measures, particularly in light of the devastating droughts witnessed in Africa this year that have left more than 20 million people on the verge of starvation, she added.
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