On World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), commemorated on 17 June, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), China and other partners launched the 'One Belt and One Road Joint Action Initiative to Combat Desertification,' which aims to link land rehabilitation efforts across Asia, Europe and Africa.
The UNCCD also welcomed Canada's formal announcement that it intends to rejoin the UNCCD at the earliest opportunity, following its withdrawal in 2014.
17 June 2016: On World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), commemorated on 17 June, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), China and other partners launched the ‘One Belt and One Road Joint Action Initiative to Combat Desertification,’ which aims to link land rehabilitation efforts across Asia, Europe and Africa. The UNCCD also welcomed Canada’s formal announcement that it intends to rejoin the UNCCD at the earliest opportunity, following its withdrawal in 2014.
Convened under the theme, ‘Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People,’ WDCD 2016 was commemorated at a global observance event in Beijing, China, as well as by diverse activities around the world. During a high-level dialogue session on achieving ‘Land Degradation Neutrality and “The Belt and Road” Joint Action,’ held as part of the global observance event, participants discussed issues related to policy making and implementation of the Silk Road land restoration initiative, which includes activities such as the joint monitoring of sand and dust storms, “greening” mining and industrial wastelands and creating shelter belts to protect vital infrastructure. Thematic dialogue sessions addressed the impact of technical innovation on policy making and the role of innovative investment for technical cooperation, while a civil society-led session highlighted experiences in sustainable land management (SLM) and public awareness initiatives.
In a video message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said land degradation could reduce global food productivity by as much as 12% over the next 25 years, leading to a 30% increase in world food prices. Emphasizing that this was one of the reasons for adopting a land degradation neutrality (LDN) target under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he noted that the transition to sustainable agriculture could create some 200 million jobs across the entire food production system by 2050.
UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut reported that 90 countries had established voluntary national LDN targets since the adoption of the SDGs in September 2015. She emphasized that LDN “should be a top policy goal for every nation that values freedom and choice,” and encouraged China to spearhead work in achieving LDN, saying, “it will mark China’s legacy in green development.”
Various international development agencies and governments also announced their contributions to LDN action. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), stressed that desertification “is not always irreversible,” and described the contribution of UNESCO initiatives such as the Man and the Biosphere Programme and the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development to land restoration efforts through promoting, among other practices, sustainable land management (SLM) and agro-forestry, responsible consumption and ecosystem restoration.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stressed that the degradation of drylands, “which sustain the livelihoods of 2 billion people and are home to a quarter of all endangered species,” is of particular concern, and highlighted its support to 75 countries to establish voluntary LDN national targets.
In a joint statement by the Canadian Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and International Development and La Francophonie, heralding the country’s intention to rejoin the UNCCD “subject to Parliamentary approval in the fall,” the Ministers pointed to Canada’s contribution of more than US$216 million to the most recent Global Environment Facility (GEF) replenishment, the main funding channel of the UNCCD, stating this makes Canada the sixth-largest donor. The statement further highlighted the links between desertification and “many of Canada’s development priorities,” as well as the risks that desertification poses to realizing the SDGs.
The global event included the launch of a report titled, ‘Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation systems, strategies and tools,’ based on an assessment carried out by the International Resource Panel of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The report builds on the Panel’s first report on land and soil, which predicted that by 2050, there would be a 50% expansion of the current cropland area to compensate for land degradation and urbanization, unless serious measures were taken to ensure more sustainable use of existing cropland. The new report explains how incorporating land potential evaluation systems – which match land use with its long-term potential – can help to “decouple” human development and economic growth from land degradation through, among other strategies: guiding land tenure and land redistribution; promoting innovation to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and resource efficiency; and increasing knowledge of locally utilized food varieties that are adapted to specific land environments.
Also launched on WDCD 2016 was a stocktaking report of the five-year NEPAD-TerraAfrica Initiative’s Strategic Investment Program (SIP) for sustainable land management, which concluded in 2015 and provided US$150 million of land degradation funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as well as co-financing of US$800 million to support 36 projects in 26 countries. Among key achievements of the programme, the report notes that SIP covered a total land area of 2.7 million hectares and benefited close to five million people. Discussing the report’s findings, Sally Bunning, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), said it confirms that there is a vast and diverse suite of tools that can successfully be used, in diverse farming systems and in different contexts, to improve land management. She further noted that the report underscores the importance of investing in longer term and wider scale efforts and in knowledge sharing for sustainable societal benefits. [UNCCD Press Release on WDCD] [WDCD 2016 Global Observance Webpage] [UN Press Release] [UNCCD Press Release on Canadian Statement] [Government of Canada WDCD Statement] [IUCN WDCD Message] [Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation systems, strategies and tools] [FAO Press Release on TerraAfrica Initiative] [Informing Future Interventions for Scaling-up Sustainable Land Management: Lessons Learned for Decision Makers from a Review of Experiences of the Terrafrica Strategic Investment Programme on SLM in Sub-Saharan Africa] [Overview of WDCD 2016 Events]