A Better World - Volume 4

[ ]4 A B et t er W or ld Where do we stand on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality? Sasha Alexander, Policy Officer; Barron Joseph Orr, Lead Scientist; Anja Thust, Programme Officer; Sven Walter, Head, GM Rome Liaison Office; Wagaki Wischnewski, Public Information and Media Officer, UNCCD I n 2000, the link between land management and the Millennium Development Goals was never considered. It was a costly mistake. A decade later, research showed that the bottom billion poor left behind, especially women and children, lived on degrading land. 1 In order not to leave anyone behind in the pursuit of global progress by 2030, turning degraded lands into healthy and productive ecosystems must become one of the most important social linchpins. To this end, target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) posits the ambition of achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). It aims to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation in order to achieve a no-net-loss of productive land. But the pressures on our land resources are not just huge; they are growing. We can no longer take the land for granted. Competition over land is escalating due to a demand to meet two global needs. On the one hand, there is a growing demand for land to provide goods such as food, water, and energy. This requires exploiting the land. On the other hand, there is the demand for services that support all life cycles on Earth, from regulating a warming climate to refilling ground water sources that are drying up. This requires keeping the land systems functioning. The tension between these two uses is rising, in part, because a significant proportion of the natural and managed land-based ecosystems is degrading. Over the last two decades, for instance, between 20 and 30 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated surface has shown persistent declining trends in productivity. Poor land and water use and management practices are the key drivers. Climate change and biodiversity loss further jeopardize the future health and productivity of the land. Over 1.3 billion people are trapped on degrading agricul- tural land. The world’s dryland areas produce close to half of the food consumed globally. 2 But farmers on marginal land, especially in the drylands, have limited options for alter- native livelihoods and are often excluded from the wider infrastructure and economic development of a nation. Higher carbon emissions and temperatures, changing rain- fall patterns, soil erosion, species loss and increased water scarcity could render vast regions unsuitable for food produc- tion and human habitation. Land degradation decreases our resilience to environmental stresses. The resulting vulner- ability, especially of the poor, and women and children, can intensify competition for scarce natural resources and result in migration, instability and conflict. The scale of rural transformation in recent decades has been unprecedented. Millions of people have abandoned their ancestral lands and migrated to urban areas, often impoverishing cultural identity, abandoning traditional knowledge, and permanently altering landscapes. More than 40 per cent of the world’s poor rely on degraded lands for essential services such as food, fuel, raw material and water purification. 3 Restoring their productive capacity would significantly reduce the economic vulnerability of the poorest. It would also help to promote long-term develop- ment for all. That is what makes land degradation neutrality so important. The United Nations General Assembly recently stated that achieving LDN has the potential to accelerate the achievement of other SDGs. Countries and communities will be able to make the required connections between many of the SDGs and their targets affordably. Safeguarding life on land delivers health for all life on Earth, establishing the basis for communities every- where to do more than survive, that is, to thrive. Achieving LDN protects the foundation for building a promising future. The sustainable management and restoration of landscapes — the main pillars for achieving LDN — will deliver many co-benefits including biodiversity conservation, combating climate change, economic growth and human well-being. Contours for tree planting in a dry region of Turkey — an example of land reclamation on a large scale Image: Levent Ates