This year, World Day to Combat Desertification, celebrated on 17 June, falls just three days before world leaders descend on Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development - 20 years on from the first United Nations Earth Summit that drew 178 nations and around 100 heads of state to the Brazilian metropolis.
The proximity of World Day to Combat Desertification to the Rio+20 Conference makes it impossible for sustainable development practitioners not to engage in a critical analysis of the achievements and failures over the last two decades, and the steps that must be taken to achieve ‘The Future We Want’ – the slogan coined for this year’s event reflecting its uniquely participative approach, which that has seen over 10 000 stakeholders brainstorm ideas for improving the planet that will feed the 30 expected recommendations to be conveyed directly to world leaders and decision makers at the event.
It is undeniable that of the three treaties that came out of Rio, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has received far less political attention and funding than its sister environmental conventions on climate change and biodiversity - concepts that are now household words and part of mainstream culture. Yet it is equally true that a Convention associated at the outset with ‘encroaching deserts’ has gained recognition for its potential to address some of the greatest development challenges of our times - production in agriculture and forests for sustainable livelihoods, food security, economic growth and social stability.
As Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD puts it, “Land degradation [contributes] to food insecurity, hunger, migration, deforestation, political instability and civil strife; and is conducive to land grabbing for food and biofuel production”.
Against this backdrop, World Day this year is focusing on the theme "Healthy soil sustains your life: let’s go land degradation neutral”, at which the UNCCD will be pushing for a sustainable development goal of Zero Net Land Degradation (ZNLD) to be adopted. ZNLD can be achieved when, over a given period of time, non-degraded land remains healthy, and already degraded-land is restored. Such approach can ensure food security, alleviate rural poverty and hunger and build resistance to major environmental challenges.
Addressing journalists in the former German capital on 23 May, Gnacadja called on Rio+20 to adopt a "stand-alone goal on sustainable land and water use for all and by all in agriculture, forestry, energy and urbanization, through commitment to a land degradation-neutral world”.
The aim is to achieve ZNLD by 2030; zero net forest degradation by 2030; and implementing drought preparedness policies in all drought-prone countries by 2020, and this requires "the commitment, the support and the active investment of all public and private sector actors, and all parts of the supply and value chain related to land use, as well as local community stakeholders."
Ultimately the problem of land degradation cannot be solved in isolation, because it is intrinsically linked to the other issues that brought leaders to Rio in 1992 - how to foster economic development without ruining the planet for future generations.
All eyes will be on Rio this week to monitor one of the most important global meetings on sustainable development in our time. It is an historic opportunity to define pathways to a safer, more equitable, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all.
For more information:
Ms Elisabeth Barsk-Rundquist, Director of Programmes and Officer-in-Charge of the Global Mechanism
Tel. +39 06 5459 2471
e.barsk (at) global-mechanism.org