17 Jun 2016 Story Climate change

Land restoration key to human well-being

Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People.

Nairobi, 17 June 2016: Land in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) touches everyone. The food we eat, the clothes we wear and the houses we live in all stem from land resources. Achieving land degradation neutrality is therefore key in order to “leave no one behind” as proclaimed in the SDGs.

This year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) on 17 June (first declared by the United Nations in 1994) advocates the importance of inclusive cooperation to restore and rehabilitate degraded land and contribute towards achieving the SDGs.

Without a long-term solution, desertification and land degradation will not only affect food supply but lead to increased migration and threaten the stability of many nations and regions. This is why world leaders made land degradation neutrality one of the targets of the SDGs, saysUN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

This year’s global observance event will be held in Beijing, hosted by China’s State Forestry Administration. The 2016 WDCD will demonstrate how land degradation neutrality can be a critical element for achieving other SDGs, and especially promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth (SDG 8).

Degradation versus desertification
Although desertification can include the encroachment of sand dunes on land, it doesn’t refer to the advance of deserts. Rather, it is the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by human activities - including unsustainable farming, mining, overgrazing and clear-cutting of land - and by climate change.
Desertification occurs when:

  • the tree and plant cover that binds the soil is removed. It occurs when trees and bushes are stripped away for fuelwood and timber, or to clear land for cultivation
  • excessive numbers of animals overgraze, and erode topsoil with their hooves
  • intensive farming depletes the nutrients in the soil.

Desertification is a global issue, with serious implications worldwide for biodiversity, eco-safety, poverty eradication, socio-economic stability and sustainable development.

“Tackling land degradation and climate change isn’t just about other people in other places. If we don’t respond now, we all risk paying a catastrophic price in terms of conflict, food insecurity and mass migration in the future,” says Lindsay Stringer, one of the authors of a new book (co-authored with Mark Reed) titled Land Degradation, Desertification and Climate Change: Anticipating, Assessing and Adapting to Future Change, published on 13 May 2016.

As drylands become degraded, the impact on people, livestock and environment can be devastating. Some 50 million people may be displaced within the next 10 years as a result of desertification.
“Desertification and climate change are also exacerbating the political challenges we are witnessing today, including forced displacement and global instability,” says UNEP expert Edoardo Zandri.

UNEP provides vital support
Resolution L28 was approved at the United National Environment Assembly (UNEA) held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 23 to 27 May 2016, with UNEP there to support the technical discussion.

The three-page resolution titled Combating desertification, land degradation and drought and promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands encourages Member States, among other things, to increase efforts to invest in programmes that address problems of desertification, deforestation, drought, biodiversity loss, degradation of rangelands, invasion of alien species, and water scarcity, in order to maintain and improve the productivity and sustainable management of land, through national development policies, strategies and programmes developed in consultation and/or in cooperation, with key stakeholders, as appropriate.

It further urges Member States to build the capacity of and continue or increase investment in the pastoral livestock sector, including for sustainable land management practices, improved and/or restored ecosystems, access to markets, and livestock health and breeding, and enhanced livestock extension services, in order to improve productivity, contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and maintain and enhance biodiversity.

UNEP provided similar support when Member States adopted another relevant UNEA-2 resolution on Sand and Dust Storms.

By adopting resolutions and decisions at UNEA, Member States are articulating global environmental priorities and expressing their collective will to address these challenges through and in partnership with UNEP. Resolutions and decisions are formal expressions of the opinion or will of United Nations organs.

Flyer and video
UNEP has also collaborated with UNCCD to produce and disseminate a flyer (in 2015) titled Towards a Land Degradation Neutral World – A Sustainable Development Priority.

The flyer – with English and French versions – notes that SDG Target 15.3 sets out a new global ambition: to achieve a Land Degradation Neutral World by the year 2030.

It says this can be achieved through: sustainable land management practices, such as agro-forestry and conservation agriculture, which can reduce yield gaps and enhance the resilience of working landscapes while preventing further land degradation.

Sustainable land management and ecosystem restoration activities together form a landscape approach, which manages the land, water and forest resources as one integrated system to meet an area's food security needs, ensure a continued flow of ecosystem services and promote inclusive, green growth, says the flyer.

Importantly, it notes that it can take as little as $20 per year to rehabilitate and sustainably manage one hectare of farmland in Africa using traditional agro-forestry, water conservation and livestock management practices.

UNEP and UNCCD have collaborated on the production of a short video on land degradation neutrality.

Working with partners

UNEP works with a wide range of partners on the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) initiative and recently launched the ELD for Africa report at the AMCEN meeting in Cairo.
UNEP also assists the UNCCD Secretariat by implementing, or co-implementing, a number of major Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded projects supporting UNCCD’s work plan. Here are some examples:

  • UNEP implements a large portfolio of GEF-funded projects on Land Degradation and Integrated Landscape Management, with projects in over 80 countries and dozens of different partners.
  • UNEP supported all member countries in reporting to the UNCCD convention.
  • Support provided by UNEP included the establishment of the UNCCD Capacity Building Marketplace

Facts and figures
2.6 billion people depend directly on agriculture, but 52% of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation.
Land degradation affects 1.5 billion people globally.
Arable land loss is estimated at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.
Due to drought and desertification each year 12 million hectares are lost (23 hectares/minute!), where 20 million tons of grain could have been grown.
74% of the poor (42% of the very and 32% of the moderately poor) are
directly affected by land degradation globally.

Source:  UNCCD-UNEP Brochure