Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) principles are a set of 19 principles that govern the LDN implementation process. They are designed to ensure that LDN achieves its positive outcomes, while avoiding or minimising unintended or negative outcomes. The principles are:
- Maintain or enhance land-based natural capital: LDN is achieved when the quantity and quality of land-based natural capital is stable or increasing, despite the impacts of global environmental change.
- Protect human rights and enhance human well-being: Actions taken in pursuit of LDN should not compromise the rights of land users (especially small-scale farmers and indigenous populations). These actions should support livelihoods, and should not diminish the productive capacity or cultural value of the land.
- Respect national sovereignty: Governments set national targets guided by the global level of ambition while taking into account national circumstances. Governments decide the level of aspiration and how LDN targets are incorporated in national planning processes, policies and strategies.
- The LDN target equals the baseline: To maintain neutrality, the baseline (the land-based natural capital as measured by a set of globally agreed LDN indicators at the time of implementation of the LDN conceptual framework) becomes the target to achieve.
- Neutrality is usually the minimum objective: Countries may elect to set a more ambitious target. This typically happens when countries stride to improve the land-based natural capital above the baseline and take steps to increase the amount of healthy and productive land. In rare circumstances a country may set (and justify) its LDN target acknowledging that losses may exceed gains. This is acceptable if they forecast that some portion of future land degradation associated with past decisions/realities is not currently possible to counterbalance.
- Apply an integrated land use planning principle that embeds the neutrality mechanism in land use planning: The mechanism for neutrality should be based on a guiding framework for categorizing and accounting for land use decisions and the impacts of land use and management with respect to a “no net loss” target.
- Counterbalance anticipated losses in land-based natural capital with gains over the same timeframe, to achieve neutrality: Achieving LDN may involve counterbalancing losses in land-based natural capital with planned gains elsewhere within the same land type.
- Manage counterbalancing at the same scale as land use planning: Counterbalancing should be managed within national or subnational boundaries at the scale of the biophysical or administrative domains at which land use decisions are made, to facilitate effective implementation.
- Counterbalance “like for like”: Counterbalancing gains and losses should follow, as far as possible, “like for like” criteria, and thus will generally not occur between different types of ecosystem-based land types, except where there is a net gain in land-based natural capital from this exchange. Clear rules should be established based on forecasts for determining what types of “net gains” permit crossing land type boundaries, to ensure that there is no unintended shifting in the overall ecosystem composition of a country and no risk to endangered ecosystems.
- Balance economic, social and environmental sustainability: LDN seeks to maintain or enhance the quality of all ecosystem services, optimizing the trade-offs between environmental, economic and social outcomes. Implementing LDN contributes to sustainable development by integrating economic and social development and environmental sustainability. It also helps manage the land for ecosystem services while avoiding burden shifting to other regions or future generations.
- Base land use decisions on multi-variable assessments: Land use decisions should be informed by appropriate assessments (land potential, land condition, resilience, social, cultural and economic factors, including consideration of gender). These should be validated at the local level before initiating interventions to ensure evidence-based decisions and reduce the potential risk of land appropriation.
- Apply the response hierarchy: In devising interventions and planning for LDN, the response hierarchy of Avoid > Reduce > Reverse land degradation should be applied, in which ‘avoid’ and ‘reduce’ have priority over reversing past degradation, so that the optimal combination of actions can be identified and pursued with the aim to achieve no net loss across the landscape.
- Apply a participatory process: Planning and implementation of LDN involves well-designed participatory processes that include stakeholders, especially land users, in designing, implementing and monitoring interventions to achieve LDN. Processes should consider local, traditional and scientific knowledge, and apply multi-stakeholder platforms to ensure these inputs are included in the decision-making process. The process should be gender sensitive and ensure equitable access to information.
- Apply good governance: Good governance underpins LDN, therefore planning and implementation should involve:
- removing and reversing policy drivers that lead to poor land management
- applying the principles and standards of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenures to ensure tenure rights and security in the pursuit of LDN
- taking account of availability of resources (human and economic) for implementing good practices to combat land degradation and desertification
- making provision for monitoring and reporting on LDN implementation
- developing a mechanism for the coordination of integrated land use and management planning across scales and sectors to ensure stakeholder input to national and international decision-making and reporting
- developing a mechanism for the timely review of implementation outcomes and recommendations for improvement
- ensuring upward and downward accountability and transparency
- Make use of three land-based indicators and associated metrics: land cover (assessed as land cover change), land productivity (assessed as Net Primary Production) and carbon stocks (assessed as Soil Organic Carbon), as minimum set of globally agreed indicators/metrics, which were adopted by the UNCCD for reporting and as a means to understanding the status of degradation.
- The integration of results of the three global indicators should be based on a “one-out, all-out” approach where if any of the three indicators/metrics (land cover change, land productivity, carbon stocks) shows significant negative change, it is considered a loss. Conversely, if at least one indicator/metric shows a significant positive change and none shows a significant negative change it is considered a gain.
- Make use of additional national and sub-national indicators, both quantitative and qualitative data and information, to aid interpretation and to fill gaps for the ecosystem services not fully covered by the minimum global set.
- Apply local knowledge obtained through local multi-stakeholder platforms to interpret monitoring data according to local context and objectives, within agreed guidelines.
- Monitoring should be viewed as a vehicle for learning. Monitoring provides: opportunities for capacity building; the basis for testing hypotheses that underpin the counterbalancing decisions and the interventions implemented, the LDN concept, and this conceptual framework; and knowledge to inform adaptive management.
LDN Principles are provided to govern the application of the conceptual framework and to help prevent unintended outcomes during the implementation of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). To achieve the broader development objectives of the UNCCD and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), LDN interventions should seek to deliver ‘win-win’ outcomes with gains in natural capital contributing to improved and more sustainable livelihoods.
A vital part of these principles is ensuring there is multi-stakeholder engagement supported by national coordination that should include existing local and regional governance structures. This will ensure that vulnerable communities are not displaced when land is targeted for restoration.
Learning and knowledge sharing is another important LDN principle. What works and what doesn’t needs to be monitored and verified, and those lessons are applied to future LDN projects.