Desertification and Land Degradation: Evolution and Management

1. Introduction – Land use

    Land is an essential building block of civilization, it is essential for growing most of the food that the world’s ever-growing population needs, and yet its contribution to our quality of life is perceived and valued in starkly different and often incompatible ways. A minority has grown rich from the unsustainable use and largescale exploitation of land resources, with related conflicts intensifying in many countries. The world has reached a point where we must reconcile these differences and rethink the way in which we plan, use, and manage the land.

    While land degradation is a global problem, it takes place locally and requires local solutions. Greater commitment and more effective cooperation at the local level are necessary to stop land degradation and loss of biodiversity. Our ability to manage trade-offs at a landscape scale will ultimately decide the future of land resources – soil, water, and biodiversity – and determine success or failure in delivering poverty reduction, food and water security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Indeed, integrated land and water management is recognized as an accelerator for achieving most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Further agricultural expansion, one of the main causes of land degradation, could be limited by increasing yields on existing farmland, shifting to plant-based diets, consuming animal proteins from sustainable sources, and reducing food loss and waste.

    While we are at a critical juncture, fast approaching and in some cases surpassing planetary boundaries, the evidence presented in this first edition of the Global Land Outlook 2017 (GLO) demonstrates that informed and responsible decision making, improved land management policies and practices, and simple changes in our everyday lives, can, if widely adopted, help to reverse the current worrying trends in the state of our land resources.

    Bringing together a diverse group of international experts and partners, the GLO provides the first in-depth analysis of the multiple functions of the land viewed from a wide range of interrelated sectors and thematic areas, such as the food-water-land interactions, as well as less obvious drivers of land use, notably the nature of economic growth, consumer choices and global trade patterns. It addresses the future challenges and opportunities for the management and restoration of land resources in the context of sustainable development, including:

    • Food, water and energy security;
    • Climate change and biodiversity conservation;
    • Urban, peri-urban and infrastructure development;
    • Land tenure, governance and gender; and
    • Migration, conflict and human security.

    While at global level desertification is addressed by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), land degradation is a problem that also concerns the United Nations Framework Convention on Combating Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity.

    2. What is Desertification?

      The UNCCD defined desertification in its 1995 declaration as “land degradation in dryland areas due to various factors, including climatic variations and/or human activity”. The term is often linked to images of deserts moving across landscapes, encroaching on farmlands and starving vulnerable populations.

      While this is part of the problem, what needs to be addressed is actually a much wider range of land degradation due to human activity, which happens in many other areas than just drylands. Consequently, in recent years, “land degradation” has been used more and more to describe the phenomenon of soil degradation. The 3rd World Atlas of Desertification used a wider definition: “land degradation leads to a long-term failure to balance demand for and supply of ecosystem goods and services”, which covers desertification per se, but also problems linked to droughts and floods, to encroachment of urban areas, and to overuse of soils, among other things.

      3. What are the current pressures on land?

        The pressures on global land resources and the scale of rural transformation in recent decades are greater than at any other time in human history. Millions of people have abandoned their ancestral lands and migrated to urban areas, often impoverishing cultural identity, abandoning traditional knowledge, and permanently altering landscapes. The still rapidly increasing population, coupled with rising levels of consumption, is placing ever-larger demands on our land-based natural capital. The competition between the demands for land, land uses and its provisioning of goods and services is rapidly escalating. These include providing food, water, energy, and those services that support and regulate all life cycles on Earth.

        As a consequence, significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading. Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the Earth’s vegetated surface show persistent declining trends in productivity, mainly as a result of land/water use and management practices. From 1998 to 2013, these trends in productivity were apparent in 20% of cropland, 16% of forest land, 19% of grassland, and 27% of rangeland. These trends are especially alarming in the face of the increased demand for land-intensive crops and livestock.

        Biodiversity loss and climate change further jeopardize the health and productivity of land: higher carbon emissions and temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, soil erosion, species loss and increased water scarcity will likely alter the suitability of vast regions for food production and human habitation.

        Main drivers of land degradation
        Source: Land Degradation Neutrality Transformative Action, tapping opportunities, Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, 2016
        ⇨ Overgrazing : 35%
        ⇨ Deforestation :30%
        ⇨ Agricultural activities :28%
        ⇨ Overexploitation for biofuels :7%

        Land degradation also decreases resilience to environmental stresses: increased vulnerability, especially of the poor, women and children, can intensify competition for scarce natural resources and result in migration, instability, and conflict. About 1.3 billion people are trapped on degrading agricultural land: farmers on marginal land, especially in the drylands, have limited options for alternative livelihoods and are often excluded from wider infrastructure and economic development, and desertification is often the consequence. The main concerns are the declining productivity on 20 % of the world’s arable land in the last two decades with losses per year estimated to USD 6 –10 trillion. Areas with high poverty rate represent 40% of the world’s degraded land while 80% of the worldwide poor live in rural areas and 64% work in agriculture.

        4. What are the main problems with how we manage land?

          Our inefficient food systems have put the focus on short-term production and profit rather than long term environmental sustainability. It is thus threatening human health and environmental sustainability. Along with other degrading and polluting land uses focused on short-term returns, the current patterns of food production, distribution, and consumption largely fail to tackle these global challenges. There is a widening gulf between production and consumption, and ensuing levels of food loss/waste further accelerate the rate of land use change, land degradation and deforestation. In poor countries, food loss is primarily due to the lack of storage and transport while in wealthy nations, food waste is a result of wastefulness and inefficiencies towards the end of the food supply chain.

          While the modern agricultural system has resulted in huge increases in productivity, holding off the risk of famine in many parts of the world, it is based on monocultures, genetically modified crops, and an intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides that undermine its long-term sustainability. Food production also accounts for 70% of all freshwater withdrawals and 80% of deforestation, while soil, the basis for global food security, is being contaminated, degraded, and eroded in many areas, resulting in long-term declines in productivity.

          Further, large-scale land acquisitions have increased dramatically in the last two decades. Domestic elites and food-importing countries grab large tracts of arable land, usually with water rights and access to transport infrastructure, as a hedge against future price volatility and food insecurity.

          By consequence, conclude several reports, the current “agricultural business model” benefits the few at the expense of the many. Small-scale farmers, the essence of rural livelihoods and backbone of food production for millennia, are under immense stress from land degradation, insecure tenure, a globalized food system that favors concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanized farms.

          5. How can land be used (more) sustainably and what is missing until now to decrease desertification?

            It is the sum of individual decisions and actions as consumers, producers, corporations, or governments that is fueling a global land crisis: a business-as-usual approach will be insufficient to address the magnitude of this challenge. Land is finite in quantity, however, with changes in consumer and corporate behavior, and the adoption of more efficient planning and sustainable practices, sufficient land will be available in the long-term to meet both the demand for essentials and the need for a wider array of goods and services.

            It is thus needed to think in terms of respect for limits, which are not limits to well-being growth. Immediate actions can be taken without compromising the quality of life today or aspirations for the future. Informed and responsible decision-making, along with simple changes in everyday lives, can help promote economic growth and at the same time reverse the current trends in land degradation.

            To advance a new global land agenda, rights and rewards need to be underpinned by responsibility: increased security of tenure, gender equity, and appropriate incentives and rewards are essential enabling factors to help producers adopt and scale up more responsible land management practices.

            The ability to manage trade-offs at a landscape scale will thus ultimately decide the future of land resources: integration of conservation, land and water management, and restoration. Smart land use planning is about doing the right thing in the right place at the right scale. A multifunctional landscape approach advocates for more rational land use allocations that lead to greater resource use efficiency and reduction of waste; it is based on the principles of participation, negotiation, and cooperation.

            The core pathway to achieve the target on Land Degradation Neutrality, is also acknowledged as an important accelerator for achieving most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations2. The importance of land degradation and desertification led to the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 15.3 aiming specifically at land degradation neutrality. “Life on Land” is one of the Sustainable Development Goals and it encourages countries to achieve a land degradation neutral world by 2030. Today, 110 countries have already made a commitment to translate this global ambition into national targets and practical actions.

            Bold decisions and investments made today will determine the quality of life on land tomorrow. The numerous approaches, technologies, and practices highlighted in the Global Land Outlook serve as a timely reminder of proven, cost-effective pathways that will shape a prosperous and more secure future based on rights, rewards, and respect for our precious land resources.

            2 In 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. 

            6. What is Sustainable Land Management?

              Sustainable Land Management (SLM) was defined at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 as "the use of land resources, including soils, water, animals and plants, for the production of goods to meet changing human needs, while simultaneously ensuring the long-term productive potential of these resources and the maintenance of their environmental functions".

              Services provided by ecosystems
              Services provided by ecosystems

              Such SLM represents a holistic approach to preserve all ecosystem services in long- term productive ecosystems by integrating economic, sociocultural and biophysical needs and values. Scientific evidence increasingly highlights the advantages of adopting SLM practices as land-based solutions that have the potential to simultaneously address Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD), climate change adaptation and mitigation, while often achieving other co-benefits, such as protection of biodiversity.

              SLM represents a wide range of agronomic, vegetative, management and structural technologies, policies and activities in agricultural and (semi) natural land, based on the key principles of maintaining and enhancing the productivity and protection of natural resources, while being economically viable and socially acceptable. The concept of SLM is thus applicable to any ecosystem and land-use type.

              Globally, SLM forms one of the main mechanisms to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and strongly supports the objecties of the three Environmental Rio Conventions through its positive impacts on productivity, an increased resilience to climate change, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and better protection of biodiversity. SLM contributes directly to achieving several of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations, such as life on land (SDG 15), which focuses on the achievement of Land Degradation Neutrality by introducing land management practices that prevent the loss of healthy land and maintain or improve the land’s productivity.

              By enhancing food security and other livelihood benefits and by increasing the resilience of the land and the populations depending on it, SLM also contributes to end to poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), and good health and well-being (SDG 3). In addition, SLM contributes to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) through its contribution to sustainable water management, and it has strong potential to contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation as defined by climate action (SDG 13). There is a growing number of examples of SLM providing economic opportunities, for example through lower fertilizer and pesticides requirements, reduced damage by soil erosion, stable crop yields, and through development of sustainable business cases based on responsible consumption and production.

              In the particular context of climate change challenges, the land sector has significant mitigation potential through increasing carbon stocks in biomass and soil and reducing GHG emissions, especially in agriculture and forests. SLM could be the basis of well-designed and realistic land-based interventions that are essential to materialize this mitigation potential in the context of national and local circumstances and priorities.

              On this basis, the Science Policy Brief3 provides scientifically-sound guidance for decision makers to help develop SLM strategies and related policies that promote synergies and address trade-offs between multiple objectives related to DLDD, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and for creating an enabling environment to overcome possible barriers for selection and large-scale implementation of effective SLM practices considering local realities.

              3  Science Policy Brief 03, August 2017: UNCCC UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION

              7. What does “achieving neutrality” mean?

                conceptual framework for land degradation neutrality
                Conceptual framework for land degradation neutrality

                Source :  The scientific conceptual framework for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN)

                The Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) mechanism for neutrality comprises the counterbalancing of anticipated losses in land-based natural capital with planned gains, within unique land types. In practice, projected negative changes in land-based natural capital (anticipated losses) are counterbalanced with actions to achieve gains through reversing degradation (anticipated gains).

                Achieving neutrality requires an approach that provides decision-makers with the means to balance potential gains and losses in terms of intent (capturing the expected outcomes of land use and management decisions in such a way that favors neutrality), and results (evaluating the impact of those decisions). Ideally the neutrality mechanism would consider not just the direction of change but also, the magnitude of change. It would theoretically be possible to apply a neutrality planning system that is based on anticipated gains and losses in the measures of land-based natural capital (e.g., absolute quantity of soil organic carbon), rather than on the area of land where gains or losses are anticipated.

                An adaptive approach that elicits and responds to learning at each stage is encouraged. Particularly because LDN is a novel approach to management of land degradation, and because the land-based social-ecological system will be affected by global environmental change, it is critical to embed adaptive management, based on learning, during planning, implementation, monitoring and interpretation of LDN. Counterbalancing losses in land types managed for conservation with gains in land types managed for production should be avoided, as this would violate the vision of LDN and conflict with the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations REDD programme4 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

                4 REDD : United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries 

                8. What are the objectives and principles for governing Land Degradation Neutrality?

                  Land Degradation Neutrality considers all land degradation whether due to human or natural causes. In particular, climate change is likely to increase the risk of land degradation in many countries, and could lead to losses despite efforts to reduce or reverse land degradation, making LDN more difficult to achieve.

                  Neutrality implies that there is no net loss of what LDN is intended to maintain. Thus “no net loss” in this context means that land-based natural capital is maintained or enhanced between the year 2015, when the decision to pursue LDN was adopted by the UNCCD, and at a future date (such as the year 2030) when progress will be monitored .

                  The objectives of a Land Degradation Neutrality are thus to:

                  • Maintain or improve ecosystem services;
                  • Maintain or improve productivity, in order to enhance food security;
                  • Increase resilience of the land and populations dependent on the land;
                  • Seek synergies with other environmental objectives;
                  • Reinforce responsible governance of land tenure.

                  Benefit in one land type cannot counterbalance a loss in a different land type, accordingly counterbalancing losses in land types managed for conservation with gains in land types managed for production should be avoided. This means that LDN activities should seek to deliver ‘win-win’ outcomes, whereby land restoration and rehabilitation contribute to broader environmental goals and more sustainable livelihoods.

                  A number of principles to reach this goal have been defined, among which:

                  1. Maintain or enhance land-based natural capital;
                  2. Protect the rights of land users and respect national sovereignty;
                  3. Integrate planning and implementation of LDN into existing land use planning processes;
                  4. Counterbalance anticipated losses in land-based natural capital with interventions to reverse degradation, to achieve neutrality;
                  5. Balance economic, social and environmental sustainability;
                  6. Base land-use decisions on multi-variable assessments, considering land potential, land condition, resilience, social, cultural and economic factors;
                  7. Apply a participatory process: include stakeholders, especially land users, in designing, implementing and monitoring interventions to achieve LDN;
                  8. Reinforce responsible governance: protect human rights, including tenure rights; develop a review mechanism, and ensure accountability and transparency;
                  9. Monitor using the three UNCCD land-based global indicators: land cover, land productivity and carbon stocks;
                  10. Apply local knowledge and data to validate and interpret monitoring data;
                  11. Apply a continuous learning approach: anticipate, plan, track, interpret, review, adjust, create the next plan.

                  Further, as underlined in the report “Land Degradation Neutrality and tapping opportunities – transformative action” of The Global Mechanism5 :

                  • Land degradation can be avoided by addressing drivers of degradation and through proactive measures to prevent adverse change in land quality of non-degraded land and confer resilience, via appropriate regulation, planning and management practices;
                  • Land degradation can be reduced or mitigated on agricultural and forest land through application of sustainable management practices (sustainable land management, sustainable forest management);
                  • The productive potential and ecological services can be restored or rehabilitated where feasible in some (but rarely all) of degraded land through actively assisting the recovery of ecosystem functions.

                  5 The Global Mechanism is an institution of the UNCCD that provides support to countries in translating the Convention into action and achieving LDN at the national level. They are supporting countries in designing and implementing LDN transformative projects and programmes and mobilizing the necessary resources. They act as a connector, advisor and partner in implementation

                  9. What is the “scientific conceptual framework” used for LDN?

                    The scientific conceptual framework provides a scientifically-sound basis to understand LDN, to inform the development of practical guidance for pursuing LDN objectives and to monitor its progress. It allows a response hierarchy to Avoid > Reduce > Reverse land degradation, which articulates the priorities in planning LDN interventions and can work synergistically with other global initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

                    LDN also provides important opportunities for synergies, such as:

                    • Linking monitoring and reporting processes related to LDN indicators;
                    • Collaborating to leverage existing systems to monitor socio-economic indicators;
                    • Monitoring of key enabling environment factors such as governance, land rights and security.

                    On this basis, the implementation of LDN projects are managed at the landscape scale, considering all land units of each land type and their interactions and ecological trajectories, so that the LDN interventions can be optimized among those land units, in order to maintain or exceed no net loss, per land type.

                    The two figures below illustrate the key elements of the scientific conceptual framework for LDN and their interrelationships, detailed in the World Atlas of Desertification (see also question 12).

                    As stated by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), this framework contributes to a real paradigm shift that counterbalances the expected loss of productive land with the recovery of degraded areas. It places the measures to conserve, restore and rehabilitate land in the context of land use planning.”

                    This allows a response hierarchy to Avoid > Reduce > Reverse land degradation, which articulates the priorities in planning LDN interventions.

                    10. What is still missing to reach the objectives of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN)?

                      What is missing are transformative projects and programmes. The failure to develop such large-scale transformative LDN projects equals huge missed opportunities to achieve sustainable development. Projects tackling sustainable development issues have long suffered from fragmentation, thus compromising the implementation of comprehensive and effective solutions6.

                      The knowledge gained will be vital to track progress and to design effective public policies that can help countries achieve Target 15.3. It is, in the first instance, a question of knowing the extent of the land degradation problem while understanding the socio-economic, demographic and environmental drivers and vulnerabilities. Then it is a matter of setting bold, ambitious targets and managing the inevitable trade-offs.

                      Transformational projects and targeted policy should aim to reduce the formidable pressure on land while bringing back lost land into a state of health and productivity. This means synergy between various sectors and national sustainable development plans that embrace complementary management options:

                      • Avoiding land degradation through land use planning that fully accounts for the potential and resilience of land resources;
                      • Adopting sustainable land management policies and practices in order to minimize current land degradation;
                      • Rehabilitating/restoring degraded lands.

                      Creating synergies is at the heart of its Programme, and the engagement of the Global Mechanism in national LDN target setting processes will ensure coherence, leverage, joint learning and global analysis:

                      • Coherence: providing a coherent methodological approach to LDN data sourcing and assessment in cooperation with global data providers;
                      • Leverage: ensuring the consistent and synergistic use of multi-partner funding, facilitating the transition from the identification of LDN baselines and measures to LDN implementation;
                      • Joint Learning: sharing experiences and lessons-learned within and between countries;
                      • Global analysis: providing consistent information on regional and global LDN trends, based on internationally agreed indicator frameworks.

                      6  « Land Degradation – Transformative Actions » The Global Mechanism of the UNCCD

                      11. What is the World Atlas of Desertification?

                        The World Atlas of Desertification published by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission gives policymakers worldwide comprehensive and easily accessible insights into land degradation, its causes and potential remedies to tackle desertification and restoring degraded land. The Atlas focuses on the underlying causes of land degradation worldwide and global environmental change under five major subject headings:

                        • Global Patterns of Human Domination. Highlighting the role of Homo sapiens as the major driving force of global environmental change;
                        • Feeding a Growing Global Population. The ability to feed 10-12 billion humans by the end of the century is one of the great challenges facing humanity, creating enormous burdens on the land;
                        • Limits to Sustainability. The Brundtland Commission defined in 1987 sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. There are numerous obstacles that must be overcome to achieve this goal;
                        • Converge of Evidence. Many of the anthropogenic-induced environmental changes can be measured and their combined effect are indicative of the multiple stresses humans exert on the land. The Atlas draws on this complexity by adopting the concept that evidence or signals from multiple sources may “converge”, thus leading to the development of testable hypotheses and/or conclusions that are supported by data;
                        • Solutions. Potential solutions to land degradation need to be identified and implemented within the context of local social, economic, and political conditions.

                        Providing the first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of land degradation at a global level based on a large number of facts, forecasts and global datasets, the Atlas highlights the urgency to adopt corrective measures and is offering a tool for decision makers to improve local responses to soil loss and land degradation. These can be used to identify important biophysical and socio-economic processes that, on their own or combined, can lead to unsustainable land use and land degradation.

                        12. What are the main findings of the World Atlas of Desertification?

                          Among the main findings of the World Atlas regarding the unprecedented pressure on the planet's natural resources are particularly relevant that:

                          • Over 75% of the Earth's land area is already degraded, and over 90% could become degraded by 2050;
                          • Globally, a total area half of the size of the European Union (4.18 million km²) is degraded annually, with Africa and Asia being the most affected;
                          • By 2050, up to 700 million people are estimated have migrated due to issues linked to scarce land resources.
                          • As a consequence of accelerated deforestation, it will become more difficult to mitigate the effects of climate change and land degradation, and climate change are estimated to lead to a reduction of global crop yields by about 10% by 2050. Most of this will occur in India, China and sub-Saharan Africa, where land degradation could halve crop production.

                          At EU level, desertification already affects 8% of the territory, particularly in Southern, Eastern and Central Europe. These regions – representing around 14 million hectares – show high sensitivity to desertification and thirteen Member States have declared themselves affected by desertification under UNCCD.

                          13. What are some of the solutions proposed by the World Atlas of Desertification?

                            One of the opportunities is offered by the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT), which is a network that develops, archives, shares and disseminates Sustainable land management (SLM) knowledge to improve human livelihoods and the environment.

                            As already mentioned (see question 6), SLM technology is a physical practice on the land that aims at controlling land degradation, enhance productivity, and/or other ecosystem services. A technology consists of one or several measures, such as agronomic, vegetative, structural, and managerial. Such an approach includes the ways and means of support that help introduce, implement, adapt and apply SLM technologies on the ground to foster an enabling environment. As part of its mission, and based on an inventory and document of individual initiatives and successful sustainable land management practices as showcases for other land users, WOCAT strives to support evidence-based decision-making and influence policy making at various levels to promote wider implementation and scaling up of identified good practices.

                            Successful prevention and solutions require practical proven and scientifically approved technologies and approaches. Potential locations of maladapted land use practices are identified by mapping the co-occurrence of key issues related to land degradation and framing them within local contexts and stakeholder knowledge. Documented solutions from similar regions in the WOCAT database along with policy actions, may yield a list of SLM options within the context of local economic, social and environmental conditions ready to be upscaled.

                            For example, many efforts have been made within the region of Central Asia to mitigate land degradation. In Argentina, with close links among all partners and sectors, the National Observatory of Land Degradation and Desertification, a successful partnership built across political, scientific and technological sectors, is monitoring and assessing activities executed, and multi-sectoral knowledge feeds, directly into the policy process.

                            LDN stakeholders
                            LDN stakeholders

                            Criteria have been defined through a participatory process to ensure comparability and 15 pilot sites, representing almost all of Argentina’s ecosystems, are networked and gather biophysical and socio-economic data.

                            Efforts to halt land degradation and promote sustainable development are mutually reinforcing. Land represents a common ground and an accelerator for reaching each of the global targets that will ensure a trajectory of shared prosperity and wellbeing.

                            A challenge is to scale up what works in LDN transformative projects and programmes by, for instance:

                            • Moving from pilots to scale: They need to be ambitious in both scale and impact. They scale up action beyond pilot action to mainstream sustainable land management practices;
                            • Building on good practices: They are focused on scaling up science-based and proven good practices;
                            • Promoting innovation: They capitalize on the latest technologies to support sustainable land management, rehabilitation and restoration and actively promote the transfer of technology.
                            • Enhancing national capacities by strengthening national institutions, supporting country leadership and ensuring national accountability for project implementation and outcomes;
                            • Leveraging finance, including private sector.

                            Many successfully completed or ongoing projects share features of transformative LDN projects and programmes. For example, the report Transformative action, Tapping opportunities7 showcases a selection of projects that illustrate the practical application of LDN transformative action and a variety of financing arrangements through multiple sources including national funding, loans and grants from development banks, climate finance, bilateral financing, NGOs, the private sector, and innovative finance schemes such as payments for ecosystem services. This report also provides a summary of the most relevant financing opportunities for the implementation of these projects and programmes. It includes a short description of international financing institutions as well as national and private sector financing opportunities.

                            7  Land Degradation Neutrality, Transformative Action, Tapping Opportunity. The Global Mechanism of the UNCCD

                            14. How are the processes of implementation of an LDN organized in practice?

                              Preparation of the implementation of an LDN should go through the key features of the process, which include:

                              • Establishing required governance mechanisms, policy alignment (across scales and sectors), safeguards for land tenure rights and multi-stakeholder platforms;
                              • Stratifying land area according to land types, based on ecosystem features;
                              • Undertaking preliminary assessments of land potential, land degradation, resilience, and relevant social and economic factors;
                              • Developing capacity for resilience assessment and socio-economic assessment.

                              On this basis, different modules may help organize these processes by:

                              • Documenting the vision and objectives of LDN;
                              • Providing the LDN frame of reference (the baseline and why the baseline values represent the target when pursuing no net loss);
                              • Establishing the mechanism for neutrality (the counterbalancing of anticipated losses with planned gains elsewhere);
                              • Presenting the elements necessary to achieve LDN, including:
                                • preparatory activities (enabling environment and preliminary assessments);
                                • Integrated land use planning for tracking LDN;
                                • Interventions to achieve LDN;
                                • Learning and adaptive management;
                                • Governance;
                              • Detailing the methods for monitoring LDN, and cover:
                                • Collaborative establishment of methodological standards;
                                • Indicators, metrics and data integration to evaluate LDN status reporting and synergies with other sustainable development initiative;
                                • National and local inputs to support verification and interpretation of monitoring data.

                              The UNCCD progress indicators include three biophysical indicators: land cover, land productivity and carbon stocks. Meanwhile, additional indicators may be required to fully assess trends in land-based ecosystem service. These could include indicators of human wellbeing including maintenance of land rights and impacts on local communities. It is also essential that the results of LDN monitoring are reviewed with coordinated input from local stakeholders for both verification and interpretation of the results.

                              An advantage of the UNCCD land-based progress indicators and associated metrics is that the same data set collected for the indicators can also be used for monitoring trends in land degradation in addition to monitoring achievement of LDN. The learning based on monitoring the three global land indicators and supplementary indicators and subsequent verification processes should thus be used to inform evaluation of the effectiveness of past interventions in maintaining ecosystem services and to plan future land management. Interim monitoring provides the opportunity to adjust LDN interventions to enhance the prospects of meeting the LDN target.

                              The report also provides an example of how to track and help counterbalance anticipated losses with planned gains elsewhere via a “neutrality mechanism balance sheet”. It shows in particular how land use decisions will influence the metrics used to monitor neutrality of a specific land.

                              Globally, relevant indicators for land degradation have inherent challenges due to the wide variability in land degradation as well as very practical considerations concerning capacity in collecting, analyzing, interpreting and reporting to governments and stakeholders.

                              15. How are the Land Degradation Neutrality projects monitored?

                                Neutrality will be monitored through change in values of a specific set of consistently measured indicators and associated metrics, which are more readily detected than land degradation status per se, as degradation does not occur in linear or easily discernible patterns. The LDN indicators specify what to measure, while the metrics state how each of the indicators is assessed. Indicators for LDN were selected to reflect the land-based ecosystem services the LDN seeks to support. It will be thus possible to quantify the balance between the area of gains (significant positive changes in LDN indicators=improvements) and area of losses (significant negative changes in LDN indicators=degradation), within each land type across the landscape.

                                16. Are the financial means available to achieve the objectives?

                                  There are substantial opportunities for financing LDN projects and programmes, including from national budgets, development banks, global funds, bilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector. These sources of funding are steadily increasing as commitments for sustainable development continue to evolve. Effectively tapping into financing opportunities requires that countries develop and implement LDN transformative projects and programmes backed by policies that are anchored to the principles and targets of the SDGs.

                                  In particular, the Global Environment Facility (GEF)8 resources are available to developing countries and economies in transition and serve as a financial mechanism to international environmental conventions and agreements to meet their objectives9. GEF provides this support to government agencies, civil society organizations (CSOs), private sector companies, research institutions and other potential partners in implementing projects and programmes in recipient countries. It finances projects and programmes that address land degradation and deforestation, protect and sustainably manage biodiversity, address climate change, and eliminate or reduce harmful chemicals and waste.

                                  The GEF main focus is grant funding through various modalities depending on the size of the projects. Non-grant instruments are also available for specific initiatives as well as a GEF Small Grants Programme, implemented by the UNDP which provides financial and technical support to community-based initiatives and actions.

                                  Projects can be developed and submitted through the 18 GEF Agencies including UNEP, UNDP, World Bank, Regional Development Banks, WWF, IUCN and Conservation International. Funding proposals are largely “mainstreamed” in the project preparation cycle of these organizations.

                                  Appendix : One example of global initiative putting these sustainable land management in practice : the Guidelines and case studies for best sustainable land management technologies and approaches in Sub- Saharan Africa10.

                                  Despite continuous efforts to spread sustainable land management practices, their adoption is still alarmingly low. These guidelines identify, analyse, discuss and disseminate promising SLM practices - including both technologies and approaches - in the light of the latest trends and new opportunities. These are intended to help create a framework for investments related to these areas, in particular, on those practices with rapid payback and profitability and / or other factors that drive adoption. The guidelines are targeted at key stakeholders in programmes and projects at the design and implementation stages, including practitioners, managers, policymakers, and planners, together with financial and technical institutions,and donors.

                                  The report highlights that despite the constraints and problems land users have, they are willing to adopt sustainable land management practices if these provide higher net return with lower risks, short and long-term benefits being the key issue for this adoption. Changes in practices should build on – and be sensitive to - values and norms, allow flexibility, adaptation and innovation practices that are easy to learn and thus require minimal training and capacity building. Rules, regulations and by-laws need to be established, but must be relevant to be accepted and followed. Resource use rights and access are key entry points that give people individual and / or collective security and motivation for investment.

                                  A key aspect in adoption and spread of SLM is to ensure genuine participation of land users and professionals during all stages of implementation to incorporate their views and ensure commitment. The guidelines acknowledge the complexity of sound natural resource management and clearly shows the need for major shifts in emphasis to overcome bottlenecks and barriers to the spread sustainable practices. Twelve groups of sustainable technologies backed up by 41 case studies and a section on sustainable approaches, with 6 case studies, are presented to support such objectives underlining that there is no one miracle solution (‘silver bullet’) to solve the problems.

                                  The report identifies which main efforts should first be addressed:

                                  • The problems of water scarcity, low soil fertility and ‘nutrient mining’, organic matter and reduced biodiversity given to improve water use efficiency in rainfed agriculture;
                                  • Another key concern is conservation of plant and animal biodiversity, which is central to human well-being, most notably in supporting food production, but also as a source of fibre, wood, and medicines;
                                  • Priority should also be given to low-input agronomic and vegetative measures, and only then consider the application of more demanding structural measures, including the need to adapt practices to mitigate climate change characterised by tolerance to increased temperatures, climate variability, and extreme events.

                                  The report considers that if the sustainable principles of improved water, soil fertility, plant management, and micro-climate are considered, the result will be better protection against natural disasters and increased resilience to climate variability and change. This can be achieved through various means including cover improvement, crop rotation, fallow and intercropping, application of animal and green manure and compost through integrated crop-livestock systems, appropriate supplementation with inorganic fertilizer and trapping sediments and nutrients.

                                  9 The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
                                  10 Sustainable Land Management in Practice Guidelines and Best Practices for Sub-Saharan Africa 

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