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Paradigm shift on Land Degradation at the RIO+20 Conference

​The RIO+20 Conference, which concluded on June 22nd 2012,signaled the beginning of  a paradigm shift.. The world leaders gathered at the conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, adopted a declaration underling that the world must do much more in the  fight against desertification/land-degradation, by striving to ensure  a land-degradation neutral world. This position shows that the leaders have agreed that it cannot be business as usual as regards the issue of sustainable land management, but that the time have come to check-mate these phenomena and their consequences if sustainable development is to be achieved!

The land-degradation neutral world is a relatively new concept, which first began to gain currency at the international level when world leaders  attending the United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on “Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” declared that the time had come for the world to set a target of 'zero net land degradation' as a sustainable development goal.  The endorsement by RIO + 20 of the need to pursue a coarse that will ultimately lead to a land-degradation neutral world is a clear sign that global consciousness as to the importance of this goal has certainly grown. More importantly, this endorsement demonstrates that political will for achieving this target is really gaining momentum.
The outcome of the Conference, titled “The future we want”, sees  Capacity Building through inter alia, extending training programmes and scientific studies, and initiatives aimed at deepening understanding and raising awareness of the economic, social and environmental benefits of sustainable land management policies and practices, as fundamental in creating this land-degradation neutral world. 

Capacity Building: The cornerstone element
The declaration underlines that achieving a land degradation neutral world requires among other things, the careful monitoring and measuring of desertification/land degradation on a global scale. For this to be done Capacity Building in many areas would of necessity have to take place, especially in the affected developing countries. The declaration stresses the importance of the further development and implementation of scientifically based, sound and socially inclusive methods and indicators for monitoring and assessing the extent of desertification, land degradation and drought, as well as the importance of efforts underway to promote scientific research and strengthen the scientific base of activities to address these issues.
The conferences supports cooperation through the sharing of all relevant information related to desertification, land at all levels and encourages states and relevant organizations to cooperate in this regard including fostering collaboration among academic, scientific and technological community, in particular in developing countries, to close the technological gap between developing and developed countries and to strengthen the science-policy interface and foster international research collaboration.
The significant focus on the role of capacity building in securing global sustainable development is in our view one of the world leaders’ greatest achievement at this conference. Indeed this issue is given exclusive attention in sub-section C. under the section, “VI. Means of implementation”.  The role and or need for capacity building are further underscored more than twenty (20) times in the final document. And, while desertification and degradation are not the first addresses of all of these highlighted roles and needs, the implementation of each of them would undoubted redound in their support and reinforcement at all levels thus pushing us further and further along on the path to building a land degradation neutral world.
Some of the other areas addressed by the final document that would have significant impact of the process of building a land degradation neutral world include:
  • Strengthening international cooperation, particularly in the areas of technology transfer,  capacity building paying particular attention to the needs of developing countries for capacity building;
  • Equipping stakeholders with the necessary skills, including through education and capacity building, partnerships, networking and experience sharing at all levels;
  • Encouraging the voluntary exchange of experiences as well as capacity building in the different areas of sustainable development;
  • Connecting technologies and innovative applications to promote knowledge exchange, technical cooperation and capacity building for sustainable development
  • Sharing of experiences and lessons learned;
  • Promoting the science-policy interface and strengthening the  participation of all countries in international sustainable development processes and capacity building especially for developing countries, including in conducting their own monitoring and assessments;
  • Enhancing evidence-based decision-making at all levels and contributing to strengthen ongoing efforts of capacity building for data collection and analysis in developing countries
  • Providing capacity building to countries as well as support and facilitate access to technology;
  • Recognizing the need to relevant capacity building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment as a whole;
  • Supporting cross-sectoral and cross-institutional policies promoting sustainable forest management;
  • Calling for enhanced efforts to achieve the sustainable management of forests, reforestation, restoration and afforestation, and supporting all efforts that effectively slow, halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation
  • Recognizing that there is a need for global, integrated and scientifically-based
  • Committing to mobilizing financial resources and capacity building, particularly for developing countries;
  • Promoting  the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies by, inter alia, assessing technology needs of developing countries, options to address them and capacity building.

From the positions highlighted immediately above, it is clear that the international community views capacity building as the cornerstone element if we truly want to ensure sustainable development. Iit is also clear that the conference realizes that much of this capacity building must of necessity support the building of a land degradation neutral world. For, when all is said and done, maintaining the productivity of land is essential to our food security, water supply, and as a source of energy.  Without these, all talk of sustainable development would indeed be meaningless.

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