UN Conference On Desertification

  • 02 Sep 2019

  • On 2nd September, 2019, the 14th Conference of Parties (COP-14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) started in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh with the theme ‘Restore Land to Sustain life’.
  • India, for the first time, being the global host fora 12 day (September 2 - September 13) COP-14, took over the COP Presidency from China for the next two years till 2021.
  • India is privileged to be among the select few countries to have hosted the COP of all three Rio conventions on climate change, biodiversity and land.
  • The COP 13 took place in September, 2017 in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China.


  • It aims to help countries achieve Land Degradation Neutrality(LND) by delivering tools and resources that are fit for purpose.

Issues to be discussed

  • The conference will deliberate on the actions that the 197 partner countries need to take to combat desertification, reverse land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought.
  • At the end of the conference, the member countries will sign the ‘New Delhi Declaration’, which will provide the pathway for future actions to meet the UNCCD goals for 2018-2030.

Rising Concerns about Land Degradation

  • Three out of every 4 hectares of land have been altered from their natural states and the productivity of about 1 in every 4 hectares of land is declining.
  • According to recently released report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Climate Change and Land, an estimated 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions derive from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU).
  • Globally over 1.3 billion people are trapped on degrading agricultural land.
  • Land degradation working in tandem with climate change and biodiversity loss may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.
  • Over 1 million species on earth are on the verge of extinction, threatening global food security, largely due to habitat loss and land degradation.

Indian Scenario

  • India faces a severe problem of land degradation, or soil becoming unfit for cultivation. Nearly 30% of its land area, as much as the area of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra put together, has been degraded through deforestation, over-cultivation, soil erosion and depletion of wetlands, according to a 2016 study by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
  • India has lost 1.6 million hectare of forest cover over 18 years to 2018, about four times the geographical area of Goa.

India’s Commitment

  • At the previous edition of the COP, India had committed to restore 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by the year 2020, and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030.
  • India became part of the “Bonn Challenge”, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
  • In June, 2019, the environment ministry had launched a flagship project on enhancing capacity on Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) and Bonn Challenge in India through a pilot phase of 3.5 years. The project, launched in partnership with Internationals Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN), is being implemented in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, and Karnataka.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • Established in 1994, it is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.
  • The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
  • The new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in order to restore the productivity of vast expanses of degraded land, improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people, and reduce the impacts of drought on vulnerable populations to build.
  • The Convention’s 197 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought.

Bonn Challenge

  • The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
  • It was launched in 2011 by the Government of Germany and IUCN, and later endorsed and extended by the New York Declaration on Forests at the 2014 UN Climate Summit.
  • Underlying the Bonn Challenge is the forest landscape restoration (FLR) approach, which aims to restore ecological integrity at the same time as improving human well-being through multifunctional landscapes.

Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN)

  • LDN has been defined by the Parties to the Convention as: A state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.
  • In 2015 the UNCCD introduced the new concept of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN), which was later adopted as a target of Goal 15 of the SDGs.
  • It represents a paradigm shift in land management policies and practices. It is a unique approach that counterbalances the expected loss of productive land with the recovery of degraded areas.
  • It strategically places the measures to conserve, sustainably manage and restore land in the context of land use planning.
  • The objectives of LDN are to:
    • maintain or improve the sustainable delivery of ecosystem services
    • maintain or improve productivity, in order to enhance food security
    • increase resilience of the land and populations dependent on the land
    • seek synergies with other social, economic and environmental objectives
    • reinforce responsible and inclusive governance of land.

LDN indicators

  • The minimum set of indicators recommended for tracking progress towards LDN against a baseline are:
    • land cover
    • land productivity (metric: net primary productivity)
    • carbon stocks above and below ground (metric: soil organic carbon)


Increasing Drought:

  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and 2/3 of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.
  • By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 percent. As populations increase, especially in dryland areas, more and more people are becoming dependent on fresh water supplies in land that are becoming degraded.

Food Insecurity:

  • 12 million hectares of productive land become barren every year due to desertification and drought alone, which is a lost opportunity to produce 20 million tons of grain
  • Climate change could cause food insecurities in countries by affecting crop yields, decreasing their nutrient content and affecting the growth and productivity of pastoral animals. Cereal prices could rise up to 23% by 2050 due to climate change making it unaffordable for the poor

Water Insecurity

  • The increase in droughts and flash floods that are stronger, more frequent and widespread is destroying the land – the Earth’s main fresh water store. Droughts kill more people than any other single weather-related catastrophe and conflicts among communities over water scarcity are gathering pace.
  • Over 1 billion people today have no access to water, and demand will increase by 30% by 2030.

Increasing Migration:

  • The number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly over the past fifteen years reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000.
  • Behind these numbers is the links between migration and development challenges, in particular, the consequences of environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty and the importance of addressing the push and pull factors, and the root causes of irregular migration.
  • In rural areas where people depend on scarce productive land resources, land degradation is a driver of forced migration.

Threat to National Security:

  • 40% of all intrastate conflicts in the past 60 years are linked to the control and allocation of natural resources. The exposure of more and more poor people to water scarcity and hunger opens the door to the failure of fragile states and regional conflicts.

Suggestive Measures

  • There are two types of solutions: One is conservation of wetlands, rangelands and mangroves which absorb huge stocks of GHGs like CO2 from the atmosphere.Second one is planting of trees, reforestation and afforestation.
  • Avoiding, reducing and reversing desertification would enhance soil fertility and increase carbon storage in soils and biomass while benefiting agricultural productivity and food security. Prevention of desertification is, however, preferable to attempts to restore degraded land.
  • Over 30% of food is wasted or lost globally, which contributes to 10% of total greenhousegases (GHG) emissions from human activities. A number of response options such as increased food productivity, dietary choices and food losses and waste reduction can reduce the demand for land conversion. This could free land and create opportunities for enhanced implementation of other strategies listed here.
  • Creation of windbreaks through afforestation, tree planting and ecosystem restoration programmes that can function as “green walls” and “green dams” that reduce dust and sandstorms and sand dune movement.

Way Forward

  • Protecting of land is a continuous process and this needs the involvement of all stakeholders. Land provides a host of ecosystem services like support for agriculture. It just means that land-related ecosystem services need to be sustained.
  • Our future economic growth, prosperity and well-being depend on protecting and restoring working landscapes.It is also necessary to recognize the role of women as agents of positive change. Evidence shows that when women are given equal opportunities and access to resources and decision-making, communities become more prosperous and more peaceful. Women’s transformative potential can become the cornerstone for achieving LDN and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.