17th September – Averting desertification

Of the several noteworthy outcomes of the 14th Conference of Parties (COP 14) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the one that stands out is the move towards consolidating multiple programmes to protect the environment, land, and biodiversity.

Averting desertification

Background –

The historic Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992, aimed broadly at ensuring sustainable development, was instrumental in the signing of three major global conventions on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification, which have been running parallel despite having a strong bearing on each other.

Correcting an anomaly –

  • This flaw is sought to be rectified by the COP 14 by calling for greater coordination between them to harness their synergies. The underlying objective is to use a land-based route to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change.
  • A research-based report brought out ahead of the COP 14 by a UN agency had highlighted the intimate links between global warming, land degradation, and biodiversity loss.
  • While climate change, marked by frequent weather extremes like droughts, intense downpours, and floods, accelerated land spoilage due to soil erosion, the latter, in turn, abetted climate change by curtailing the land’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

Desertification – the phenomenon –

  • At present, about a third of the earth’s land surface is marred by desertification. About 250 million people, mostly poor and tribals, depend on such land.
  • Restoring even 150 million hectares of such lands could feed 200 million more people every year. More importantly, this could provide greater resilience to the livelihood of small stakeholders by augmenting their income.
  • Besides, it could sequester an additional 2 Giga tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, thus, contributing handsomely to mitigating climate change.

Significance of land restoration –

  • Going by the estimates circulated at the COP 14, every dollar invested in land restoration can yield returns worth $10 with efficient farm practices and prudent water management.
  • Land amelioration, therefore, offers the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity deprivation. Most nations have consequently accepted land degradation neutrality by 2030 as their national targets.
  • India has committed to convert about 5 million hectares of degraded land into fertile soil in the next 10 years. Significantly, India has also vowed to implement all the recommendations of the New Delhi Declaration adopted at the COP 14.

Way forward –

  • Land improvement is an innately cost-intensive task which many developing countries can ill-afford without external assistance. Since not much support can be expected for this purpose from the funding mechanisms mooted under the climate agreement, the COP 14 has suggested the involvement of the private sector in this effort.
  • The New Delhi Declaration specifically mentions that land restoration makes business sense if well-advised regulations and incentives are offered to the prospective investors. Thus, the COP 14 has managed to put together a prudent plan of action to arrest desertification and, more importantly, restore degraded lands to good health. Its success would, however, depend on the political will of the leadership in different countries.

SourceBusiness Standard

Also read: 16th September – A milestone in greater transparency, accountability