UN Calls For Halting Land Degradation

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Credit: iisd.ca By Ramesh Jaura
IDN-InDepth NewsInterview

BERLIN (IDN) - As the international community heads towards Rio+20 to commemorate the historic Earth Summit in June 1992, a senior United Nations official has called for bold actions to put a halt to poverty-generating land degradation. The UN conference in Brazil stressed the need for tangoing environment and development.

The Rio Summit June 20-22, 2012 should take "bold actions towards setting ambitious but attainable targets" that include a "global Zero Net Rate of Land Degradation", UN's Mohamadou Mansour N'Diaye said in an interview with IDN.

N'Diaye is chef de cabinet and acting deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), emerging from the Earth Summit along with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). UNCCD and UNFCCC secretariats are based in Bonn.

The importance of the UNCCD is underlined by the fact that more than one billion people inhabiting drylands in some 100 countries are caught in the pangs of poverty and excruciating hunger.

Every minute, 23 hectares of land are degraded through drought and desertification, eating into the economic, social and environmental pillars of our sustainable development. Drylands comprise one-third of the world land mass and population, 44% of the global food production system, and 50% of the world's livestock. In addition, dry forests are home to the world's largest diversity of mammals whose survival, literally, hangs on the arid zone forests.

The interview of UNCCD's N'Diaye via E-Mail follows:

IDN: It's often said that the socio-economic impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) are underestimated. Are those impacts really measurable?

Mohamadou Mansour N'Diaye (MMN): They are certainly measurable and we need that information so that the cost of action versus inaction is clearly put to the attention and consideration of decision and policy makers.

That is why the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Secretariat of the UNCCD have jointly launched a partnership on the Economics of Land Degradation (E-LD). A study on the costs of desertification, land degradation and the effects of drought is underway. Such valuation will be critical for decision making at various levels.

IDN: What has the UNCCD undertaken and plans to set things right so that the significance of DLDD as an obstacle to global sustainable development is driven home?

MMN: The 194 Parties to the UNCCD have adopted in 2007 the ten-year strategic plan (2008-2018) and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention. 'The Strategy' – as we call it – aims at promoting the functioning of the dryland ecosystem; improve the well-being of the users of these ecosystems; generate global benefits through promoting dryland ecosystem functions and mobilize resources for achieving the Convention's objectives.

The Strategy emphasizes once more that the UNCCD is an essential bridge between sustainable development and natural resource management.

The vision set by Parties to the UNCCD is being materialized and specific indicators are identified to monitor achievements on the ground. In many affected countries it is now fully accepted that without a clear policy on sustainable land management it would be difficult to meet the objectives identified under the relevant national policy areas.

Therefore the action programmes to combat desertification, land degradation and the effects of drought are mainstreamed in the national policy papers. This demonstrates that more and more decision makers are aware of the fact that the LAND potentials are essential to achieving development.

IDN: What would you describe as the main achievement of COP 10 (tenth conference of parties to the UNCCD) held in Changwon, South Korea, in October 2011?

MMN: Matters relating to the institutional governance of the UNCCD have been solved once for all at Changwon. In addition, the 'Changwon Initiative', which was discussed at Ministerial level aims at complementing The UNCCD Strategy through addressing focused areas, which include: enhancing the UNCCD scientific process; providing a framework for resource mobilization and facilitation of partnership arrangement; engaging the business community and giving recognition to the work and initiatives, which have made a significant and innovative contribution to Sustainable Land Management through the establishment and launching of the Land for Life Award.

IDN: Is the UNCCD now at the cutting edge to combat desertification, land degradation and drought?

MMN: Very much so. If national action programmes to combat desertfication / land degradation are fully implemented many of today's global environmental challenges would be better addressed.

This has also been demonstrated at the UN General Assembly high level meeting held in New York last September. World leaders that attended the event have acknowledged the fact that without better land management issues of poverty, food security, vulnerability to climate change will remain global challenges for humanity.

Without a better understanding of the problems of land degradation and desertification, it would be unrealistic to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in many countries. At the UNCCD we also say that the DLDD are issues relating to security and peace for all.

IDN: UNCCD is one of the three conventions emerging from the Earth Summit in June 1992. Is science coming to the aid of UNCCD so that it is regarded on par with the Climate Change and Biodiversity conventions at Rio+20?

MMN: Since the Earth Summit in 1992, the context has changed dramatically. The phenomenon of land degradation, drought cycles have spread to virtually all parts of the world, not just some ecosystems (arid, semi-arid and dry sub humid areas) already identified.

The actions to be implemented thus become global. 40% of the terrestrial ecosystems are concerned and some 2 billion people are faced with multiple challenges relating to DLDD.

The good news is that thanks to the findings of the scientific community, we now have the knowledge to achieve sustainable land management in all regions of the world. With the help of the scientific community our Convention intends to make that knowledge available to all.

At the Rio Summit in June 2012 [which will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg], we call on the world leaders to further express their resolve to address DLDD worldwide through taking bold actions towards setting ambitious but attainable targets that include a "global Zero Net Rate of Land Degradation".

Setting such a target would be instrumental in the sense that it would open possibilities to assess the global status of desertification and land degradation on a scientific basis. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 21, 2011]

Copyright © 2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: UNCCD's Mohamadou Mansour N'Diaye | Credit: iisd.ca I

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