United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: United Nations & Other IGOs
  • Name: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Vulnerability (2 hits), vulnerable (2 hits),

Full Submission

The Submission of the UNCCD Secretariat to the Preparatory Process for Rio+ 20

1 November 2011

Land and soil in the context of a green economy for sustainable development, food security and poverty eradication

?The time has come for the international community to commit itself to a land degradation neutral world?

?Let us resolve today to adopt a target of no more land degradation by the end of this decade? A) The importance of productive land/fertile soil for sustainable development

1. Land, defined as a system engaged in generating biological productivity, is the earth.s infrastructure for life. Its rate of production and quality depend on the major component of land, soil and its fertility. Soil organic matter, derived from the vegetation supported by the soil, is the major component that modulates soil fertility.

2. Land and soil not only support its direct users, but also the indirect users, i.e. the consumers of land productivity, the entire human population that also derives other benefit generated by soil through its vegetation cover, like atmospheric oxygen, climate regulation and water filtration provisions. Therefore soil functions and services acquire the status of a global common, whose protection from degradation benefits all, hence it requires partnership and cooperation at the global scale.

3. The degradation of land is a major threat to life on earth, including humans, and when occurring in drylands, where productivity is constrained by water, it is termed desertification. Land degradation results from various factors including human activities and climatic variations/shocks induced disasters such as drought and floods. It is expressed by a persistent reduction of biological productivity, driven by overexploitation of land resources by users striving to increase economic productivity, which results in fertility loss and soil depletion.

4. Drivers of change - population growth, increased consumption and inequity generate the excess demand on land productivity, leading to its degradation, whose repercussion, both biophysical and socio-economic travel far, locally, transboundary, and often globally, impacting global climate and global food security, causing health problems and political instability.

B) The scope of the challenge

5. Despite the crippling effects of land degradation or soil nutrients depletion, the world has continued building towards ?a soil peak. which will have far-worse consequences than the current ?oil peak.. The threats and far-reaching impacts of land degradation are ignored largely because the issue is still a blind spot for the international community, despite the search for sustainability.

6. Our most significant non-renewable geo resource is productive land/fertile soil. Nevertheless each year, an estimated 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost. Arable land loss is estimated at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Land degradation directly affects 1.5 billion people globally. When poverty is assessed in terms of infant mortality rate, 74% of the poor (42% of the very and 32% of the moderately poor) are directly affected by land degradation globally.

7. Land is a finite resource; land degradation depletes the resource base for our common food security. In the dry lands, due to drought and desertification 12 million ha of land are transformed in new man-made deserts each year. That is an area with the potential to produce 20 million tons of grain each year.

8. Desertification, land degradation are now pervasive in all ecosystems and corrode the three pillars of sustainable development. Most certainly, land degradation is a global phenomenon, with 78% of the degrading land taking place in the non-drylands. Degrading the buffer zone of the drylands increases drylands. Vulnerability to degradation. The demand for productive land is high and competition over various land uses is intense. The recent food crises were not accidents and they are not over. But in an increasingly interdependent world, land-related crises will mutate into new global crises.

9. Africa is the most vulnerable region to phenomenon of desertification. Over 45 per cent of Africa is affected by desertification, 55 per cent of which is at high or very high risk. 2/3 of Africa.s arable land could be lost by 2025 if this trend continues.

10. As for drought, the percentage of Earth.s land area stricken by serious drought has more than doubled from the 1970s to the early 2000s and the world is facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades; but this has yet to be fully recognized by the international community. Unfortunately, drought in our time still implies famine and claims lives. The tragic situation happening in the Horn of Africa is a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go.

11. In the last two decades, significant land recovery and improvement have occurred in the drylands. In many cases, drylands populations have been leading these innovations and progresses. For instance, farmer-managed natural regeneration and agroforestry techniques through planting of ?fertilizer trees? on farmlands and grazing lands have already been adopted in many regions and, have contributed to improving over six million hectares across Africa. A major scaling-up of these systems should be pursued everywhere by improving public policies and institutions and harnessing the potentials of the civil society and the private sector.

12. On another hand, more than 2 billion ha worldwide still offer opportunities for rehabilitation through forest and landscape restoration. One 1.5 billion ha would be best-suited for mosaic restoration, in which forests and trees are combined with other land uses, including agroforestry, smallholder agriculture. It offers ?a vast opportunity to reduce poverty, improve food security, reduce climate change, and conserve biodiversity?.

C) The Global Policy Response from the ?Earth Summit in Rio? and its Agenda 21

13. The UNFCCC, the CBD and the UNCCD (the Rio Conventions) are the offspring of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. While UNFCCC and CBD address the atmosphere and the life on earth, respectively, the UNCCD addresses the degradation of the earth.s infrastructure for life, land, with a specific mandate for the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, the dry-lands where productivity is constrained by water.

14. While the awareness of the global community to climate change and biodiversity loss has dramatically increased since the Rio Summit, the significance of land and soil to humanity remain obscure to many, and the risks to livelihoods emanating from its degradation does not receive the attention it deserves. This may be attributed, in part, to the limited textual mandate of the UNCCD and its limited geographical focus, resulting in increasing persistent degradation and poverty, especially in drylands.

15. UNCCD objective is attending Desertification Land Degradation and mitigating the effects of Droughts. More specific targets provided by its ten-year strategic plan 2008-2018, are to promote the functioning of the dryland ecosystem, improving well-being of the users of these ecosystems, generate global benefits through promoting dryland ecosystem functions, and mobilize resources for achieving the Convention.s objectives.

D) Addressing DLDD in the context of a green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication: the need for action at the UNCSD or Rio + 20

16. Poverty and hunger, food insecurity and Vulnerability to climatic shocks are likely to remain the major global challenges for sustainable development in the next decades. For the large majority of the poor and the most vulnerable and the ecosystems they depend on, adaptation and resilience will better ensured through addressing DLDD issues.

17. Trilemma of addressing DLDD (rates per minute)

? Causes

? Population increase: 150 people

? CO2 carbon increase: 6150 ton

? Tropical deforestation (total dryland and non-dryland): 25 ha

? Urban encroachment: 5.5 ha

? Effects

? Soil degradation: 10 ha

? Deaths from hunger: 16 people (incl. 12 children)

? Consequences

? Political instability

? Civil strife

18. If we do not take bold actions to protect, restore and manage land and soils sustainably, we will miss climate change adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity, forests and MDGs targets; we will not alleviate rural poverty and hunger, ensure long-term food security, build resilience to drought and water stress. This will lead to consequences including more political conflicts over scarce resources and continued forced migrations.

19. ?The strategy is to grow more produce from less land, more crop per drop of water, more yield per unit input of fertilizers and pesticides, more food per unit of energy, and more biomass per unit C and environmental foot-print.?

20. Green Economy is geared to capture opportunities provided by Sustainable Land Management (SLM) used for preventing degradation and restoring degraded land, provided that the available institutional framework is engaged in establishing schemes of payments for ecosystem services and creating market mechanisms for land-derived ecosystem service, thus offsetting the short-term economic losses of land users practicing conservation and ecological agriculture, for the sake of generating sustainable income at the long run, and conferring not only local but also regional and even global benefit.

21. Therefore land-use in agriculture, energy and forestry should be one of the cornerstones of the green economy for sustainable development food security and poverty eradication.

22. At the High-Level Meeting convened by the UN-GA, many leaders ?stressed that if the international community was serious in its commitment about reversing land degradation and desertification, the time had come to commit for building a land degradation neutral world, to set measurable sustainable development targets towards zero net land degradation as a commitment to build a land degradation neutral world.?

23. Actions on the ground required for achieving a zero net rate of global land degradation are in line with the Sustainable Land Management (SLM) approach, which can be effectively streamlined into the Green Economy initiative, thus empowering it as a tool for attaining sustainable development in rural areas the world over.

24. Both SLM and Green Economy internalize the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment approach of addressing agriculture as cultivated ecosystems, which provide bundle of services, including biological productivity and its products of commercial value, but also other services essential for human well-being, including local as well as global climate regulation, and providing habitats for biodiversity, which is involved in service provision.

E) Means or implementation

25. The current state of DLDD and its gloomy outlook call for new and bold set of actions to be endorsed by Rio+20 conference. First, to set an ambitious but attainable target such as a state of global Zero Net Rate of Land Degradation. Achieving this target requires implementing action of prevention, coupled with action for rehabilitation and restoration of already degraded lands.

26. Another action addresses the need for an international framework attending committed to land and soil issues, which would rally political support for strengthening the current weak and fragmented international regime for land and soil. Initiatives to set a new legally-binding instrument for soil and land failed, and none of the existing environmental instruments is amenable for focusing on land, on top of its current mandate. The UNCCD, however, is the only legally-binding instrument dedicated to land, and it only requires some updates through appropriate means for functioning as the required land-dedicated platform.

27. At the High-Level Meeting convened by the UN-GA many leaders also ?emphasized that at a time when there is evidence of accelerating trends in land degradation in all ecosystems, the planet could ill afford, for world leaders, to limit their efforts to tackle these phenomenon only in the drylands. It was pointed out that if we waited till other ecosystems were degraded and desertified before taking action, other interrelated challenges such as food security, poverty, forced migration, adverse impact of climate change, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, political instability and conflict would be exacerbated and sustainable development and the MDGs could not be effectively realized.

28. There was a call to to enhance and foster the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as a global policy and monitoring framework to address the issues of soils and land degradation?.8 Without necessarily amending the UNCCD, several mechanisms could be explored for achieving that purpose including through a protocol for attending global land and soil degradation.

29. Monitoring the pace of approaching the target require means of assessing land degradation and modes of land management that prevent degradation and promote restoration. Knowledge is available but much of it is fragmented and non-consensual. More specifically a consensual and authoritative assessment of land degradation and monitoring of its trends does not yet exist. Almost 25 years ago, the Bruntland report titled ?Our Common Future? warned us that if human needs are to be met, the Earth.s natural resources must be conserved and more specifically that land use in agriculture and forestry must be based on a scientific assessment of both land capacity and the annual depletion of topsoil.

30. Attending the global land and soil therefore requires a scientifically credible, transparent and independent assessment of existing, policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive knowledge, to be provided by a globally agreed strong and effective science-policy interface, similar to the ones attending climate and biodiversity, IPCC and IPBES, respectively. The assignments might be ?to provide an ongoing authoritative and globally agreed scientific assessment on the state of the world.s soils, with a complementary commitment to set and monitor quantitative targets to prevent degradation and restore degraded soils, with a view to providing comprehensive ongoing information and targets to policy makers, land managers and other stakeholders on soil quality, to improve food security and enhance other ecosystem services, with the long-term aim of eradicating poverty, eliminating malnutrition and promoting ecological, economic and social/cultural sustainability as the basis of a green economy?.

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