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Editorial Articles


volume-23, 07-13 September 2019

Combating Desertification and land degradation

Vivek Ojha

Desertification and land degradation is one of the biggest environmental threats that the world community is facing in modern times. The perilous effect is evident everywhere.  Reversing land degradation and its outcomes while accelerating positive achievements for people and for ecosystems with a view to deliver on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is a matter of prime importance.

India's commitment to SDG 15 (life on land) is in coherence with the Prime Minister's vision for doubling the income of farmers by 2022. "SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) 15 addressing land issues is concomitant to climate change, poverty, food security, clean water and sanitation, gender equality, livelihood,".  Indian government is committed to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030 and by hosting the COP-14 it aims to showcase its role as a leader in addressing the land agenda. The government is focussing in the  areas  of sustainable land management to address the issues of land degradation, desertification, drought and dust storms. Each year, the world loses 12 million hectares of land - enough to produce 20 million tonnes of foodgrains - due to overexploitation and climatic variations. Since intense modern agricultural practices have become the vogue, humankind has lost 2,000 million hectares of productive land. If we talk about the catastrophic consequences of land degradation and desertification of India the picture seems very bleak.  About 30% of country's total geographical area being affected by land degradation; India has high stakes and stands strongly committed to the Convention. ISRO's data has also proved this fact. Various schemes have also  been launched by the Government of India such as: Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), Soil Health Card Scheme, Soil Health Management Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PKSY), Per Drop More Crop, , etc. which are helping to reduce land degradation.

India has  also launched a flagship project on enhancing capacity on forest landscape restoration (FLR) and Bonn Challenge in India, through a pilot phase of 3.5 years implemented in the States of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland and Karnataka. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in partnership with The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), through this flagship project aims to develop and adapt best practices and monitoring protocols for the Indian states and build capacity within the five pilot states on FLR and Bonn Challenge.

What is Bonn challenge ?

The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world's deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. At the UNFCC Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 in Paris, India also joined the voluntary Bonn Challenge pledge to bring into restoration 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by the year 2020, and additional 8 million hectares by 2030. India's pledge is one of the largest in Asia.

Land degradation and desertification and global legislation

United Nations has 3 Rio Conventions derived from Earth Summit, 1992 held in Rio de Janerio. These are  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).  Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda. In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared 17 June the "World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought" to promote public awareness and the implement-ation of the UNCCD in the desertification affected countries. The Convention 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 new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is the most comprehensive global commit-ment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in order to restore the productivity of vast expanses of degraded land, improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people, and reduce the impacts of drought on vulnerable populations to build resilient infrastructure in this regard.

Necessity to combat desertification and land degradation-

Families and communities are breaking up, losing their homes and sources of livelihoods, often from single instances of droughts, flashfloods and forest fires. These negative impacts of unpredictable and extreme climatic conditions are now recurrent, more frequent and intense in many parts of the world. Today, over a million species are on the verge of extinction, threatening global food security, largely due to habitat loss and land degradation. Three out of every 4 hectares of land have been altered from their natural states and the productivity of about 1 in every 4 hectares of land is declining. Poor land health is on the rise, and is impacting 3.2 billion people all over the world. Land degradation working in tandem with climate change and biodiversity loss may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

Desertification, land degrad-ation and drought are huge challenges. But investing in the land and its stewards can open up vast opportunities for the economy and environmental resilience. COP14 is aiming to help countries achieve Land Degradation Neutrality by delivering tools and resources that are fit for the purpose. India's population is projected to reach 1.7 billion by 2050, and the country was one of the first to commit to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal target of achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN).

LDN is the Sustainable Development Goals' target aiming to halt the degradation of land by taking three concrete actions. Countries have  promised to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation, in that order of priority. LDN is also associated with the concept of social and distributive justice . Achieving land degradation neutrality can help vulnerable populations to improve their livelihoods, and communities all over the world can strengthen their resilience, especially to natural disasters linked to climate change.

COP-13 Of UNCCD and it's achievements-

By the end of the 13th meeting of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 113 countries had agreed to specify concrete targets with clear indicators, to rehabilitate more land and reverse degradation, which currently affects over a third of the world's land resources.

At UNCCD COP13, countries also agreed on a new global roadmap to address land degradation. The new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is 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 impact of drought on vulnerable populations.

The Ordos Conference also witnessed the birth of the first global private sector fund dedicated to implementing the SDGs. Known as the Land Degradation Neutrality 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 environmental, 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.

The Global Land Outlook, a new landmark publication unveiled at the Ordos Conference 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.

This is the most comprehensive study of its type, mapping the interlinked impacts of land on a range of thematic areas including urbanisation, climate change, erosion and forest loss.

The  contribution of ecological services to food security and peace and security has been reaffirmed in the Ordos declaration. 80 Ministers from around the world issued the Ordos Declaration and they pledged to tackle desertification.

It emphasizes  the importance of addressing climate change, protecting biodiversity and addressing food security.

(The author is an academician. e-mail: peerlesstreasure@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.

(Image Courtesy : Google)