China Hosts Milestone UN Conference On Land Degradation – Analysis
By Rita Joshi
A new strategy aimed at achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030 will be a major outcome of the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which opened in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China, on September 6.
This is the first Conference hosted by China out of the three 1992 Earth Summit’s Rio Conventions – on biological diversity and Climate Change, according to UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut. The target to be achieved between 2018 and 2030 has indicators to measure change. It provides “an organizing principle that we can all rally behind and achieve a specific change.”
“The UNCCD is the global custodian of this target and there is now a new sense of purpose and common cause. Of the 169 countries that declared in 2013 that they are affected by land degradation or drought, more than 110 have signed up to the LDN Target Setting Programme,” she told reporters.
Drought mitigation as a strategic area of action will be another major outcome of COP13. “We hope that from this Conference, drought will become an area of strategic area of focus for the Convention,” Barbut said. The future projections of drought by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) show that droughts will become more intense and more frequent. The recent drought in Southern Africa led to what was declared one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of the 20th Century.
“Droughts are becoming stronger all over the world, even in Latin America, and in my own country, France, we were affected by drought for the first time this year. As a result of this Conference, we hope that countries will become well-prepared for the future,” the UNCCD Executive Secretary noted.
Launch of the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund is expected to be the third target of the conference. “We realized when we set up the target that it is meaningless to have a target when you do not have the finance to achieve your target. And often we only think about public finance. But we also have private finance. And so we have set up the LDN Fund, which will be managed by the private sector. This is the largest fund that will deal with land issues.”
Another outcome of the conference will be taking action on Emerging Issues such as sand and dust storms, which has huge economic consequences in the countries that it affects. “But it is also a complex issue to fight because the origin of sand and dust storms may be in a different country. So it has important political consequence. If we don’t take action quickly the cost of managing it can spiral out of control.”
Gender equality in land rights is another important issue. In many parts of the world women are active in agriculture, but in many countries their rights to land are not addressed. “So we hope that at this Conference the Parties will address this question.”
According to Barbut, the final issue is to take a step and look at the links between land degradation, migration and conflict. “In China, this issue may not be visible, but in huge parts of Africa, we can draw maps that show that the countries with desertification are also have the most conflicts, or food insecurity or radicalization, and are prone to conflict. A recent study, shows that more 60 million people would be have to move anyway by 2030 because of desertification.”
She emphasized that the UNCCD is a very important Convention because it is the Convention that touches the lives of the most vulnerable people. “Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t interest the rich. But history has shown before and will always show that you are never immune to the sickness of the poor. So this Convention isn’t just an environmental convention but a political and social economic one.”
Beyond that, the Conference that concludes on September 16 is expected to approve a new strategic framework aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goal 1 – No poverty; Goal 2 – Zero hunger; Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth; and Goal 15 – Life on land. The multi-year workplan for 2018-2022 and costed work programme for the 2018-2019 biennium are parts of the framework.
The first edition of the UNCCD’s Global Land Outlook, which identifies the key trends, challenges and opportunities for the management and restoration of land resources in the context of sustainable development will be another highlight of COP13.
Also convening its 13th session, the Committee on Science and Technology (CST), one of the two subsidiary bodies of the Convention, will discuss the scientific conceptual framework for LDN that was developed by the UNCCD’s Science-Policy Interface (SPI). The conceptual framework aims to provide a scientifically-sound basis for understanding LDN, and contribute to the development of practical guidance for implementing and monitoring programmes to achieve the LDN target. It uses three UNCCD-land-based global indicators of land cover, land productivity and carbon stocks.
Among its recommendations, the SPI calls on the CST and the COP to, inter alia: adopt the scientific conceptual framework and encourage its further elaboration and practical verification; apply a participatory process to ensure that all stakeholders, especially land users, are involved in designing, implementing and monitoring interventions to achieve LDN; reinforce responsible governance: protect human rights, including tenure rights; develop a review mechanism; and ensure accountability and transparency.
The second UNCCD subsidiary body, the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC), holding its 16th session, will discuss the proposed guidelines for quantitative and qualitative reporting for adoption by the COP. In line with the proposed future strategic framework for the Convention, future reporting is expected to focus on progress indicators assessed with statistical data, and narrative reports on implementation progress, primarily involving the collection of case studies and lessons learned.
As the custodian agency of SDG indicator 15.3.1 (Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area), the UNCCD will also seek the COP’s approval to use national reporting on the three progress indicators – trends in land cover, trends in land productivity and trends in carbon stocks above and below the ground – for reporting on the SDG indicator. By enhancing synergies between the future UNCCD monitoring and reporting framework and the SDGs, the UNCCD also aims to ease the reporting burden for countries and other reporting entities.
Currently 110 countries are implementing the voluntary LDN target-setting programmes with support from the UNCCD’s Global Mechanism and nearly 20 bilateral and multilateral partners. Country support includes providing practical tools and guidance for the establishment of voluntary LDN targets; assisting countries with data to establish national LDN baselines; and identifying transformative LDN projects.
Transformative projects are described as initiatives that enable countries to increase the coherence and scale of land restoration programmes and projects through: using LDN as a lens to foster the coherence of national policies, actions and commitments; moving from pilots to scale; and creating blended finance packages to finance the transition towards LDN by creatively combining public and private, national and international climate and development resources.