Land is a critical resource. It provides the principal basis for human livelihoods and well-being including supply of food, freshwater and numerous other ecosystem services, as well as biodiversity. Land also plays an important role in the climate system.
Over decades, unprecedented use of land and freshwater usage due to population growth has led to degradation of land. Combined pressures of agricultural and livestock production, urbanisation, deforestation, and extreme weather events, particularly drought, have accelerated the process. Humans affect more than 70 percent of ice-free land. Land degradation and desertification is a major economic, social and environmental problem to most countries. Desertification is a form of land degradation, by which fertile land becomes desert.
To address these changes and find ways to overcome the challenges, around 9,000 delegates from 197 countries participated in a major conference from September 2 at a suburb adjoining Delhi. The 14th Conference of Parties (COP 14) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was hosted by India.
The participants deliberated on land management, restoration of degraded land, drought, climate change, renewable energy, women empowerment, gender equality, water scarcity and various other issues. The delegates included ministers, heads of United Nations and intergovernmental bodies and representatives of non-governmental organisations.
After 12 days of talks, the meeting adopted the “New Delhi Declaration”- an action plan to save the planet from losing more land. It says that the world needs to consider land-based solutions for climate action and biodiversity to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, reached in December 2015.
Signatories to the declaration endorsed 35 decisions, including commitments to combat land degradation, desertification and drought. The New Delhi Declaration is a statement of consensus, while the 35 decisions are legally binding on each of the 197 countries.
The declaration details the steps that should be taken to restore degraded land, and that will set the agenda for future action. The participants decided to boost global efforts to mitigate and manage the risks of crippling drought.
The countries agreed to make the Sustainable Development Goal target of achieving “Land Degradation Neutrality” (LDN) by 2030, a national target for action. LDN is a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems. The subject was widely discussed at the conference. Land degradation has affected around 3.2 billion people worldwide-especially in rural areas, farmers and people living below the poverty line. Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) will ensure a paradigm shift in land management policies and practices.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated India’s commitment to the global land agenda. India pledged to restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030—five million hectares more than its earlier target of 21 million hectares. India is the current President of COP 14 and will serve for two years.
Countries will also be expected to address insecurity of land tenure, including gender inequality; promote land restoration to reduce land-related carbon emissions; and mobilise innovative sources of finance from public and private sources to support the implementation of these decisions at a national level.
All countries recognised that desertification undermines health, development and prosperity in all regions. Ministers expressed support to new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being, the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security.
The Declaration states that local governments must adopt integrated land use management and enhanced land governance to rehabilitate the natural resource base that makes cities sustainable. It suggests reducing rates of land consumption and soil sealing along with biodiversity and ecosystem loss. The conference also adopted a proactive approach to reduce the risks and impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought.
UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said that land restoration is one of the cheapest solutions to address the global crises of climate and biodiversity loss. He said that there is a clear link between land restoration, climate and biodiversity.
Script: K V Venkatasubramanian, Senior Journalist