India to Host UN Conference on Land Degradation

Photo credit: India's Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

India will host the global Conference on desertification, land degradation and drought from October 7 to 18, 2019 in New Delhi. Participants from 197 Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will have access, for the first time, to a wealth of vital new scientific data, says the Convention secretariat.

Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which also endorsed the climate change (UNFCCC) and biodiversity (CBD) conventions.

UNCCD was adopted in 1994 and entered into force in 1996, thus becoming a legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.

The Convention addresses specifically the issue of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD) in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas of drylands, which are home to some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in the world.

The Convention’s 197 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought.

Through partnerships, the Convention’s 197 parties set up robust systems to manage drought promptly and effectively. Good land stewardship based on sound policy and science helps integrate and accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, builds resilience to climate change and prevents biodiversity loss.

Participants in the Conference in New Delhi will have access to Earth Observation data on the trends in land degradation dating from 2000, gathered from 120 of the 169 countries affected by desertification. They will also receive the first report on desertification and climate change prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global authority on climate change.

Drawing on this data, the participants attending the fourteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP14) to the UNCCD can assess trends in land degradation, desertification and drought more accurately. They will also be in a position to identify associated threats and risks to enable the international community to agree on the best solutions and actions to take over the next 10 years.

“India is one of the countries affected by desertification, and is facing new challenges, among which are recurrent droughts and dust and sand storms. The country has tremendous potential to turn these challenges into opportunities through improved land use and management, and to provide the leadership the world needs to take bold actions,” says Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of UNCCD

She added: “India recognizes land rehabilitation as a cost-effective investment that can accelerate the transition to sustainable development globally. With India’s leadership, the international effort towards achieving land degradation neutrality could take huge strides forward. As it assumes the COP Presidency, the Convention’s 197 Parties can create the environment we need for innovative and ingenious solutions to our common goals.”

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 promised to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation, in that order of priority. 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.

According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India, with about 32 percent of its land under degradation and 25 percent undergoing desertification, has a huge task cut out to ensure sustainable land management as well as food, water and livelihood security by adopting both preventive and curative strategies for moving towards land degradation neutrality in a realistic time-frame.

“The effort needs to be supported by adequate financial resources, robust scientific base, effective policies, strong institutional mechanism and elaborate monitoring systems,” says the Ministry on its website.

This will have huge implications for overcoming poverty in the affected areas. Commensurate benefits will also accrue on account of a range of ecosystem services from avoided degradation, land restoration, biodiversity conservation, reduced CO2 emissions and storage of carbon pool.

“India has had a long journey in addressing degraded lands and has also recorded some remarkable success. Many of the present schemes and programmes of Ministry of Rural Development, Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Deptt. of Science and Technology, Deptt. of Space have significant bearing for addressing the DLDD challenges, the Environment Ministry informs.

“Though India does not have a specific policy or legislative framework for combating desertification as such, the concern for arresting and reversing land degradation and desertification gets reflected in many of our national policies (for e.g., National Water Policy 2012; National Forest Policy 1988; National Agricultural Policy 2000; Forest (Conservation) Act 1980; Environment (Protection) Act 1986; National Environmental Policy 2006; National Policy for Farmers 2007; National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA)- 2007) which have enabling provisions for addressing these problems,” adds the Ministry.

The concern for arresting and reversing land degradation and desertification is also implicit in the goals of sustainable forest management (SFM), sustainable agriculture, sustainable land management (SLM) and the overarching goal of sustainable development which the country has been pursuing.

“The subject has in fact been engaging the attention of our planners and policy makers since the inception of planning. The first five year plan (1951-1956) had ‘land rehabilitation’ as one of the thrust areas. In the subsequent plans too, high priority has been consistently attached to development of the drylands,” explains the Ministry.

Ahead of COP14 in New Delhi, government representatives will gather for a preparatory meeting from 28-30 January 28-30 ain Georgetown, Guyana, for the seventeenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the UNCCD (CRIC 17).  CRIC 17 will take stock of results of the first global assessment of land degradation, based on Earth observation data reported by governments, and agree on most of the recommendations that COP14 will consider.

The Conference of the Parties was established by the Convention as the supreme decision-making body that today consists of 197 governments and a regional economic integration organization. The Parties have met every two years since 2001 to review progress in the implementation of the Convention. The last Conference of Parties, hosted by the Government of China, was held in October 2017 in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. [22 January 2019]

Photo credit: India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

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