United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
- Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
- Stakeholder type: United Nations & Other IGOs
- Submission Document: Download
- Additional Document:
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
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
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
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)
? Population increase: 150 people
? CO2 carbon increase: 6150 ton
? Tropical deforestation (total dryland and non-dryland): 25 ha
? Urban encroachment: 5.5 ha
? Soil degradation: 10 ha
? Deaths from hunger: 16 people (incl. 12 children)
? 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
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
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
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
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
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?.