Nearly 1 billion people do not have enough food to eat or access to clean water. Many are living directly off degraded land. The objective of a Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) is to maintain or improve the condition of our land resources. This can be achieved through the sustainable management of our soil, water and biodiversity in order to fully realize their economic, social and environmental benefits, the key dimensions of sustainable development. LDN also embraces the restoration of degraded natural and semi-natural ecosystems that provide vital, albeit indirect, services to people and working landscapes.
LDN was born out of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) where Member States “recognized the need for urgent action to reverse land degradation. In view of this, we will strive to achieve a land-degradation-neutral world in the context of sustainable development.” At Rio+20, world leaders agreed that natural capital, in particular land resources are the foundation of our society and economy. It was this vision that guides the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda currently being negotiated at the UN headquarters in New York.
With a global consensus on the need to reverse land degradation, establishing a target on LDN with in the SDG framework provides a practical way forward. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification has established an Intergovernmental Working Group (IWG) to develop concrete options for achieving such a target – one aimed at preventing and reversing land degradation through good land management and restoration. The policy implications are well understood as is the contribution that a LDN target would make towards the overarching goals of poverty reduction and food security.
A LDN target will stimulate investment in the technical and institutional capacities needed to implement sustainable land management. Here CSOs have a critical role to play bringing the voices from the most vulnerable populations that depend on the land for their daily survival. In many cases, these investments can bring large returns and multiple co-benefits as they are often low-cost, employment-generating and targeted at poor rural communities. The zero draft, rev. 1
(released 1 July 2014) of the Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs has proposed goal 15: “Protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss” and specifically includes a priority target on achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030. The draft has yet to refine the means of implementation for enhancing resource mobilization for sustainable land management and ecosystem restoration.
Many OWG members have stated that we cannot ignore the “agreed upon language
” based on the mandate given to us by Rio+20. As with many other targets being discussed, there is always the difficulty of being precise and measurable but this should not defeat our level of ambition. Indeed as the US/Canada/Israel stated at OWG11 “one of the benefits of a target in this area would be to drive improved data and analysis”. Securing healthy and productive land will dramatically reduce poverty, ensure food security and improve the living conditions of countless people around the world. Our future depends on land and soil.