The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has long suffered from the absence of a unifying and quantifiable target. Neither there was an agreement on how to measure desertification consistently, nor a framework to set quantitative targets for reducing the degradation of land and soils. This has finally changed. It began in 2015 when the 12th Conference of Parties (COP 12) took up the vision of a land degradation neutral world as stipulated in Sustainable Development Goal 15.3. Now, the recently held Conference of Parties (COP 13 –6th to 15th September 2017, in Ordos, China) has completed this re-orientation of the Convention and made Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) the centrepiece of the UNCCD Strategic Framework for 2018–2030.
LDN is understood as no net loss of land resources. In other words, a balance between new degradation and restoration of past degradation that can be achieved through avoiding, reducing and reversing land degradation. In order to make progress measurable, three indicators are used: land cover (land cover change), land productivity (net primary productivity) and carbon stocks (soil organic carbon).
Based on this concept, the UNCCD has started a LDN target-setting programme that aims to bring down the global vision of a land degradation-neutral world to the country level. Since its launch in 2015, 116 countries have joined the programme with the objective to formulate voluntary national targets on reducing land degradation and rehabilitating degraded land. Interestingly, many countries go far beyond drylands when setting LDN targets and identifying priority areas. This shows once more that land and soil degradation is a major challenge for rural development in all climatic zones and is not limited to the arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas that the UNCCD traditionally focuses on.
With a growing number of countries that have set LDN targets, the challenge is increasingly becoming one of implementation. It is at this stage where bold targets will have to be translated into policies and projects that actually improve the way land is managed on the ground. So far, a number of multi- and bilateral agencies have joined the LDN journey and scaled up investments in sustainable land management and landscape restoration. In addition, the UNCCD launched a LDN Fund at COP 13 with the aim to mobilise private sector investments.
From a global policy perspective, LDN may hold the potential to serve as an overarching framework that provides a common point of reference for the manifold but often fragmented initiatives to fight land degradation.
Alexander Erlewein, GIZ, Bonn/Germany