According to recent estimations, approximately 3.5 billion hectares of land (23% of the globe’s land area) have been experiencing degradation processes of various types and severity.
Land degradation – mainly soil erosion, deterioration of the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soil, and the loss of natural vegetation – is estimated to occur at a rate of 5 to 10 million hectares annually. Even though the causes of land degradation can be natural or anthropogenic, it is widely acknowledged that human activity, through its alteration of natural environments and excessive use of natural resources, is the major driver of these changes. Besides the effects on biodiversity, water quality, ecosystem services, and food security, these global changes also adversely affect human welfare and health.
The concept of zero net land degradation (ZNLD) was first proposed in 2011 by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and incorporates two separate but complementary tracks. The first is the halting of further degradation processes, and the second is the active restoration of already degraded lands. A judicious combination of these two tracks could lead to a situation whereby the restoration of already degraded lands offsets continuing loss of fertile lands. Consequently, the annual rate of restoration would be equal to that of degradation, allowing the ZNLD concept to be achieved, and the global area of lost fertile land to remain stable. The year 2030 was set as a target by the UNCCD to attain ZNLD.
Since the scheme for the operation of the ZNLD mechanism has not yet been formulated, there remains a unique opportunity to design its scope and parameters of operation. For example, it is proposed that in addition to croplands, grazing lands, and woodlands, this scheme would also cover the restoration efforts of natural or semi-natural lands that do not generate direct economic revenues. However, it is well understood that the funding of restoration activities, and particularly those of natural and semi-natural lands, would be highly challenging. Regardless, an approach that pays land managers for the provision of ecosystem services could be effective in impeding behaviors that result in land degradation. This approach is an economic, market-based means for responsible land management. Also, the ZNLD mechanism could utilize a modified version of the polluter pays principle, which requires polluters to cover the expenses of preventing, controlling, and cleaning up pollution of natural resources.
To be successful, the ZNLD mechanism should formulate a protocol that defines procedures for continuous monitoring and assessment of causes, rates, and effects of land degradation. Also, the protocol should quantify the costs, benefits, and impacts of the conversion to sustainable land management. Moreover, the protocol should provide support for scientific research, legal protection, and environmental-policy regulations on an international basis. By considering the synergetic management of knowledge and resources, and implementing effective decisions and operations, the ZNLD mechanism could achieve its target by the year of 2030, for the sake of world’s human populations.
About Achieving Zero Net Land Degradation: Challenges and Opportunities
About World Day to Combat Desertification: Land Belongs to the Future, Let’s Climate Proof It,
June 17, 2014