Script: Amb. NAVTEJ SARNA, Former Indian Ambassador to the US
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that land is a fundamental building block for supporting all lives and livelihoods and countries have to work together to reduce the tremendous pressure on land and its resources. The Prime Minister was delivering a keynote address at the Opening Segment of the UN “High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought”.
This High-level Dialogue has been convened to assess the progress made on land degradation issues and map the way forward at the conclusion of the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (2011—2020). During the last decade, the world saw redoubled efforts to address land issues and the acquisition of considerable relevant scientific knowledge and technical expertise.
The Dialogue seeks to maintain this momentum for addressing these challenges, so as to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, restore the ecosystem, as well as facilitate climate change adaptation and mitigation, using land restoration as a key entry point. Stronger, more effective partnerships and commitments on a global scale will help the world build back better from Covid-19.
The Prime Minister detailed several important steps taken by India which have put the country on track to achieve the national commitment of land degradation neutrality. About 3 million hectares of forest cover have been added in India over the last ten years, enhancing the forest cover to almost a quarter of the country’s land area.
India aims to restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 to achieve an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The Prime Minister shared best practices adapted in the Banni region in Rann of Kutch in Gujarat which highlight how land restoration can lead to good soil health, increased land productivity, food security and improved livelihoods. Here, grassland development has helped in achieving land degradation neutrality while supporting pastoral activity and animal husbandry activities.
Developing countries being particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of land degradation, Prime Minister Modi highlighted India’s assistance to other countries in the spirit of South-South cooperation. A Centre of Excellence is being set up in India to promote a scientific approach towards land degradation issues. “It is mankind’s collective responsibility to reverse the damage to land caused by human activity. It is our sacred duty to leave a healthy planet for our future generations”, the Prime Minister said.
Mr. Modi’s remarks and the High-Level Dialogue assume critical importance as productive land is essential for achieving global food security and environmental health, poverty eradication and energy for all; it underpins the success of the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Yet this essential resource is under serious threat.
One-fifth of Earth’s land area–over 2 billion hectares–is degraded, including more than half of all agricultural land. Each year, more than 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification, land degradation and drought. Land degradation currently undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people, more than 40% of the entire world population.
Climate change adds to and is worsened by, unsustainable land use, leading to more frequent droughts and water-stressed conditions. These in turn are among the causes for forced migration and conflicts. Land degradation and deforestation are also some of the primary environmental drivers of emerging infectious disease outbreaks.
2021 will be a milestone year for the three Rio Conventions on Desertification, Biodiversity and Climate Change as for the first time the Conference of Parties of all three Rio Conventions are scheduled to take place this year. This presents a clear opportunity to address the environmental and socio-economic challenges to proper land use in a comprehensive manner. Prime Minister Modi’s keynote address thus, assumes special significance.