High-level dialogue on desertification, land degradation and drought

Land is the foundation of our societies and is a cornerstone to global food security and environmental health, zero hunger, poverty eradication and affordable energy. It underpins the success of the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmen, and yet this finite resource is under existential threat.

Globally, one fifth of Earth’s land area – more than 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 (DLDD). The world loses 24 billion tons of fertile soil annually due to dryland degradation, with significant negative impacts on food production and economic activity.

Our planet is ailing, land degradation affects some 3.2 billion people, 70% of the world’s land has been transformed by human activity. I call for a new contract on nature through international action and solidarity. We can scale up land restoration and nature based solutions for climate action and the benefit of future generations.

— António Guterres

Land use, biodiversity loss and climate change

Land degradation currently undermines well-being of 3.2 billion people, more than 40 per cent of the entire world population. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that over 70 per cent of all natural, ice-free land has been transformed by human activity, devastating global biodiversity. Food, feed, and fibre production also contribute significantly to climate change, with around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture, forestry and other land uses, according to the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

Water scarcity, drought, wildfires and migration

Climate change further exacerbates, and is worsened by, unsustainable land use, with many regions suffering more frequent and prolonged droughts. Droughts and climate change are intensifying the incidence of wildfires that devastated roughly 30 million acres of land in the global north and south from 2018-2020 alone, causing significant losses in livelihoods, health and biodiversity,

In addition, climate-induced land degradation and water stress are expected to deplete more arable land in the coming years, plunging millions of farmers into poverty and contributing to forced migration and conflict. By 2025, two-thirds of the world could be living under water-stressed conditions, with 1.8 billion people experiencing absolute water scarcity. Similarly, migration is likely to increase as a result of desertification, with estimates that it will be responsible for the displacement of some 135 million people by 2045.

We cannot continue to focus only on economic growth at the cost of all else; our economic growth is dependent on our planet. We must find a balance between economic, social and environmental needs.

— Volkan Bozkir

Land use, zoonoses and building back better

Unsustainable land-use change, including deforestation, has been identified as the primary driver of emerging infectious diseases. As General Assembly resolution 75/218  affirmed, combating desertification, land degradation and drought, and achieving land degradation neutrality, are key to accelerate achieving the Sustainable Development Goals to protect livelihoods, prevent and prepare for future pandemics, and build back better from COVID-19. For every dollar spent on land restoration – including through low-skilled and labour-intensive shovel-ready projects – at least 9 dollars of economic benefits can be expected. Large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts have the potential to create up to 40 jobs for every 1 million dollars invested.

Taking stock of progress made

One of the most impactful developments during the the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (2011-2020) was the remarkable expansion of scientific knowledge about the drivers, processes and impacts of DLDD. Considerable technical progress was achieved in developing solutions to these challenges. 

Ensuring the food security of our planet’s projected 9.7 billion global population by 2050 while simultaneously implementing the Paris Agreement, will be impossible without tackling land degradation and enacting food system reform. It will mean upscaling Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) initiatives, securing land tenure rights for female farmers responsible for between 60 to 80 per cent of food production in developing countries, and combating droughts and forest fires.

The inclusion of a specific target under SDG 15 (‘Life on Land’), to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030, reflects the commitment of the international community to make progress on land restoration and reversing land degradation. Over 120 countries have already committed to setting voluntary targets to achieve land degradation neutrality. 



Restoring our planet requires decisive action and ambition on many interlocking issues: addressing climate change, dialling back on consumption, and restoring our land and ecosystems to health. 

— Ibrahim Thiaw

Mandate and objective

In accordance with General Assembly resolutions 74/220 and 75/218, the President of the General Assembly will convene a High-level Dialogue to assess the progress made in the fight against DLDD during the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification and and map the way forward. The dialogue will take place on 20 May 2021 at United Nations Headquarters in New York to:

  • Bring attention to recovery opportunities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic that can be aligned with action to address DLDD through job-creating projects in land restoration, regenerative agriculture, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and investments in sustainable land management
  • Elevate the discourse on DLDD issues’ global significance for the entire SDG agenda and for climate, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction
  • Build upon the commitments and initiatives from Member States and stakeholders made during the Summits on Biodiversity and Climate Change, along the path to the CBD COP15, UNFCCC COP26, UNCCD COP15, and the 2021 Food Systems Summit.
  • Encourage all UN Member States to adopt and implement Land Degradation Neutrality targets and National Drought Plans, in line with implementing the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions and future commitments under the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework
  • Call for countries to support the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund and other funding mechanisms to scale up land restoration by all sectors of society
  • Share experiences and best practices, cutting-edge technologies and innovative business models that advancegreen, resilient and inclusive recovery strategies