By Ramesh Jaura
Luc Gnacadja has rock-solid reason to be upbeat: some 100 heads of state and government agreed at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – better known as Rio+20 – to strive for “a land-degradation neutral world”, characterised by zero growth in desertification.
In doing so they were responding to the UNCCD’s clarion call in a “policy brief” for ‘A Sustainable Development Goal for Rio+20: Zero Net Land Degradation’. The brief provides a snapshot of the world’s land, explains causes and impacts of land degradation and suggests pathways to land-degradation neutrality.
It reveals that sustainable land-use is a prerequisite for ensuring future water, food and energy security. Given the increasing pressure on land from agriculture, forestry, pasture, energy production and urbanization, urgent action is needed to halt land degradation.
To achieve this goal, the policy brief called for avoiding the degradation of productive land and restoring the already degraded lands. The proposed goal of the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) is underlined by the following targets: zero net land degradation by 2030, zero net forest degradation by 2030 and drought preparedness policies implemented in all drought-prone countries by 2020.
UNCCD Executive Secretary Gnacadja can draw satisfaction from the fact that Rio+20 outcome document devoted a chapter on ‘Desertification, land degradation and drought’ (DLDD) in the 53-page outcome document endorsed on June 22. They said: “We recognize the economic and social significance of good land management, including soil, particularly its contribution to economic growth, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and food security, eradicating poverty, the empowerment of women, addressing climate change and improving water availability.”
Much to the contentment of Gnacadja, they said: “We stress that desertification, land degradation and drought are challenges of a global dimension and continue to pose serious challenges to the sustainable development of all countries, in particular developing countries.
“We also stress the particular challenges this poses for Africa, the least developed countries and the landlocked developing countries. In this regard, we express deep concern for the devastating consequences of cyclical drought and famine in Africa, in particular in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, and call for urgent action through short-, medium- and long-term measures at all levels.”
This statement is the consequence of an uphill battle the Bonn-based UNCCD Secretariat has been fighting in the last two decades with the aim of this Convention being treated on par with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
In the initial stages, UNCCD was described alternatively as the “African” or “poor man’s” Convention under the misguided belief that desertification was essentially an African – and hence poor man’s – problem of no relevance for the world at large. In contrast, climate change was right from the beginning considered a global problem calling for global solutions.
After all, every year 12 million hectares of productive land are degraded through desertification and drought alone. This is an area half the size of the United Kingdom. In the same period, 75 billion tons of soil are lost forever. Globally, 1.5 billion people live off the degrading land.
It is of vital importance against this backdrop that in the outcome document world leaders “recognize the need for urgent action to reverse land degradation” and adding that they “will strive to achieve a land-degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development.” This, they aver, “should act to catalyse financial resources from a range of public and private sources.”
Financial resources are indeed critical. As the UNCCD Executive Secretary points out: “By 2030, the demand for food is likely to increase by 50%, and by 45% for energy and 30% for water. Each of these demands will claim more land. This would lead to more deforestation unless we commit to restore degraded land. Avoiding land degradation while restoring degraded land is especially crucial for the rural poor to achieve energy, food and water security.”
It is notable, therefore, that the Rio+20 outcome document resolved to support and strengthen the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the 10-year strategic plan and framework to enhance its implementation (2008-2018), “including through mobilizing adequate, predictable and timely financial resources.” In accordance with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the world leaders also decided to take “coordinated action nationally, regionally and internationally, to monitor, globally, land degradation and restore degraded lands in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.”
They took note of the importance of mitigating the effects of desertification, land degradation and drought, including by preserving and developing oases, restoring degraded lands, improving soil quality and improving water management, in order to contribute to sustainable development and poverty eradication.
“In this regard, we encourage and recognize the importance of partnerships and initiatives for the safeguarding of land resources,” participants in Rio+20 assured. “We also encourage capacity-building, extension training programmes and scientific studies and initiatives aimed at deepening understanding and raising awareness of the economic, social and environmental benefits of sustainable land management policies and practices, they declared.
Rio+20 underlined the need to further develop and implement scientifically based, sound and socially inclusive methods and indicators to monitor and assess the extent of desertification, land degradation and drought.
Walk the talk
“With such an outcome, we must now walk the talk, for which the need for synergies cannot be over-emphasized. This outcome can drive the synergies needed by actors to deliver together. It provides an enabling environment for the Rio Conventions (agreed in June 1992) to work effectively especially at the grassroots level to support food security,” says Gnacadja, and lays out the commitment of the UNCCD secretariat to support the decisions.
He vows that to ensure a timely implementation, the UNCCD, through effective partnerships among all stakeholders, will spearhead and facilitate global monitoring of land degradation and the restoration of degraded land, especially in the drylands. UNCCD will build capacity through knowledge management and knowledge sharing,”
To this end, UNCCD will harness science and lessons learned from grassroots-level success stories. We will also promote the adoption and implementation of national drought policy, preparedness and risk management measures in all drought-prone regions and countries.
Putting things in perspective, Gnacadja says: “In 1992, the Rio meeting agreed to combat land degradation. Rio 2012 has given birth to a new paradigm, land-degradation neutrality. From Rio 1992 to Rio 2012 we have learned that desertification, land degradation and drought are drying up ‘The Future We Want’ (the conference maxim).”
He adds: “So I am pleased to acknowledge that in the context of sustainable development, a new concept calling for a paradigm shift to build a land degradation neutral world was born here at Rio +20.”