Making a paradigm shift in the fight against desertification and drought

Press Release

Bonn, Germany, 16 February 2011 – “The international community’s battle against desertification and the effects of drought is on the threshold of a paradigm shift,” Mr. Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has said, ahead of a global conference on the Convention opening today at the World Conference Center Bonn, in Germany.

“During the last four decades, initiatives to combat desertification and to mitigate the effects of drought lacked defined impact indicators. That is set to change when we meet next week to clarify the benchmarks to be used, going forward, to assess progress both in terms of the immediate action to be taken and long term change,” Mr. Gnacadja added.

The second special session of the Committee for Science and Technology (CST S-2) which will take place from 16-18 February will focus on the methodologies to be used to measure changes in land cover status and the proportion of the population living above the poverty line in areas affected by desertification. These are the two mandatory indicators to measure impact agreed upon at the 2009 Conference of the Parties to the Convention. The CST is a subsidiary body of the Convention.

“For nearly four decades, scientific consensus about the scope of land degradation and its global impact on livelihoods have been elusive. So, although countries and experts have been monitoring phenomena such as desertification, land degradation and drought, we cannot collectively determine its impacts because there is no harmonized approach or agreement on how to approach these assessments,” according to Professor Klaus Kellner, Chair of the CST 9 Bureau.

“What the CST embarked on in 2008, and the focus of this session in particular, is to make progress towards developing this kind of a framework,” he said. “A framework that any country should can apply, and whose results can provide a basis for comparison across time and countries. In the long-term, the data would be aggregated at various levels and provide clarity about the scope of desertification globally or regionally. Data aggregation would enable parties to decide on the targets to aim for to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the drylands,” Prof. Kellner added.

The meetings are path breaking for another reason. For the first time in the history of the Convention, the reports on the actions countries, civil society organizations and international organizations have taken to combat desertification and to mitigate the effects of drought will be based on one template with performance indicators, known as the Performance Review and Assessment of Implementation System, PRAIS. The reports, to be reviewed at the ninth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation (CRIC 9) meeting of 21-25 February, are expected to provide the baseline for future performance assessments.

“The development of PRAIS marks a defining moment for the Convention. At last, a clearer picture on the global state of investment and public expenditure into sustainable land management is starting to emerge. Precious data on the volume, source, geographic distribution and sectoral allocation of financial resources is now available, arming countries with the necessary tools to increase domestic budgetary allocations, and seize innovative opportunities at the national and international levels’’ adds Mr. Christian Mersmann, Managing Director of the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD.

CRIC is a subsidiary body of the Convention. The PRAIS was jointly developed by the UNCCD secretariat, the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) in close consultation with the regional groupings of the Convention.

The recommendations from the CST S-2 and CRIC 9 will be transmitted to the tenth session of Conference of the Parties (COP 10) for consideration when it meets in Changwon City, Republic of Korea, in October 2011.

Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda. The Convention focuses on all the world’s drylands, home to over 2 billion people, 50% of the world’s livestock and accounting for 44% of all cultivated ecosystems. The Convention’s 194 Parties are dedicated to combating land degradation and mitigating the effects of drought in the drylands by improving the living conditions of the affected populations and ecosystems.