German Advisory Council report: a welcome boost to protect and restore the land

landscape at dusk

By UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw

The German Advisory Council on Global Change’s recent report, Rethinking Land in the Anthropocene: from Separation to Integration, makes it abundantly clear that we need a fundamental change in how we manage the land to limit climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and create sustainable food systems.

The five strategies illustrated in this report – ecosystem restoration, expanding and upgrading protected areas, diversifying farming systems, transforming diets and shaping the bioeconomy responsibly – are very much in line with the UNCCD’s efforts to better manage the land.

Transforming lives and livelihoods

Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN), in particular, is a key goal. LDN is an international commitment (SDG Target 15.3) under which countries work together to stop, prevent and reverse the loss of productive land. The total restoration commitments in place are close to one billion hectares, almost half of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The upcoming UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration gives us further opportunities to push hard on this agenda. 

We already see action in Africa, through the Great Green Wall Initiative. By restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land, the initiative is boosting food security and livelihoods. To date, 350,000 jobs and around USD 90 million in revenues have been generated. Such efforts bring back biodiversity, reduce the effects of climate change and make communities more resilient. All told, the benefits outweigh the costs ten-fold. 

Producing and consuming sustainably

I also welcome the recognition of the need to reform diets, which was the focus of Drought and Desertification Day 2020. In our globalized world, the food we eat impacts land thousands of miles away. Each of us holds the power to protect the land by making different choices in our daily lives. The food we lose or waste each year uses almost 30 per cent of the world’s agricultural land area, while the land used to graze and produce grain to feed animals makes up 80 per cent of agricultural land. We must all look at shifting to a more balanced diet.

Advancing a people-focused approach 

The Council’s recommendation to support change agents who pioneer new practices for managing and using land sustainably is also critical. A people-focused approach to land restoration is at the core of the UNCCD’s mandate to fight land degradation and desertification and mitigate the effects of drought. Progress in land tenure to provide secure equitable land rights is a necessary condition for better land stewardship, achieving gender equality and bringing innovation into the land use sector. 

We at the UNCCD know that our survival and future prosperity depends on the land. Healthy land is finite, but changes in consumer and corporate behaviors, combined with better land use planning and management, can help meet the demand for essential goods and services without compromising land resources. These changes can greater cleaner, greener, healthier, safer and more resilient societies as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report summary presents a clear path toward climate change mitigation, ecosystem protection and food systems sustainability through better land management. I thank the WBGU for galvanizing support and action toward a new social contract for nature.