November 2009

The Greenline - Focus on Biodiversity


UN Body Makes Breakthroughs Towards Addressing Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought

By Heitor Matallo, Hakan Marstorp and Sara Minelli

Bonn, 9 November 2009. After thirty years of cooperation, the international community has began to make headway in addressing the effects of desertification, land degradation and drought, which affect over 2 billion people. Thanks to three breakthroughs at the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 9) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), science is set to guide policy, policy makers will focus on a concrete set of issues, and the international community will increasingly benefit from cutting-edge science and knowledge on desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD).

Concerted global efforts to combat DLDD began in 1977 with the establishment of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification, which was further consolidated with the negotiation of the Convention in 1994. Over a decade later however, decision-makers still could not establish precisely what progress they were making in addressing DLDD.

Progress in the past was hampered, in part, by the scientific community’s disagreement over the measures to use to assess change, and the multiple causes of DLDD while its research remained fragmented. These constraints also contributed, to some extent, to the inability to mobilize sufficient political will to identify a starting point for monitoring and assessing DLDD. The adoption in 2007 of the 10-Year strategic plan and framework for the implementation of the Convention (2008-2018) sought to overcome these kinds of concerns.

Scientists and politicians began to address these three bottlenecks at the ninth session of the UNCCD Committee on Science and Technology (CST) and its 1st Scientific Conference that took place in September 2009 in Buenos Aires, and at COP 9, which was held concurrently. On this occasion, Parties also took the decision to continue reshaping the CST into a global authority on DLDD issues.

At the recommendation of the CST, COP 9 agreed on a set of eleven indicators – two mandatory and nine optional – to monitor and assess DLDD. Thus, starting in 2012, Parties to the Convention will, at a minimum, report on the proportion of the population living above the poverty line in areas affected by desertification, land degradation and drought and on the status of land cover in these areas.

These impact indicators will enable parties to determine the progress made, at the national and international levels, to improve the well-being of the populations and ecosystems in the affected areas, and to generate global benefits from the implementation of the action programmes at all levels.

Further work of the CST is planned to refine the set of impact indicators and associated methodologies through pilot impact indicators tracking exercises at the national level and through an iterative process that will involve the scientific community, Parties and other relevant stakeholders.

In charting its way forward, the CST will consider, for its future work, the recommendations made by the more than two hundred scientists and experts from different disciplines that attended the 1st Scientific Conference. Parties to the Convention will review and consider further the recommendations made by scientists during a special session of the CST scheduled for 2010.

One recommendation of the scientists at the Conference urges the development of a rigorous, science-based framework to monitor and assess DLDD that integrates biophysical and socio-economic methodologies. It proposes using Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), as they provide for an inclusive, participatory, trans-disciplinary approach and help decision makers to understand crucial issues, priorities and trade-offs.

The 1st Scientific Conference also considered issues related to the potential of SLM to store carbon in soils and vegetation to combat global warming and the need for a scientific networking mechanism and a knowledge management system for sharing lessons learned from both successes and failures.

Another key recommendation made by scientists is the establishment, via a consultative process, of an independent, international, interdisciplinary scientific mechanism to advise the UNCCD on a continuing basis. Such a mechanism should be positioned to complement and synergize mechanisms serving other UN environmental conventions and initiatives.

The outcomes of the CST session at COP 9 marks a key milestone in the establishment of a consistent mechanism to strengthen science–based information for the implementation of the Convention and in the implementation of the 10-year strategic plan and framework for the implementation of the Convention (2008-2018) adopted by Parties at COP 8 in September 2007, in Madrid, Spain.

The co-authors are staff members of the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.


About the UNCCD

Developed as a result of the Rio Summit, the UNCCD is a unique instrument that has brought attention to land degradation in some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and affected populations in the world. Thirteen years after coming into force, the UNCCD benefits from the largest membership of the three Rio Conventions and is recognized as an instrument that can make an important contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and generate global benefits.

For more information contact:
Knowledge Management, Science and Technology Unit
D-53113 Bonn, Germany
Tel: +49-228-815-2834
Fax: +49-228/-815-2898/99


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Editor: Patrizia Cocca
Contributing Editor: John Wickham
Contributing Writers: Mohamed I Bakarr, J. Quintana, F. Jalfim, L. C. Mattos, I. Cossio, M. Seely, N Gaseb, P Klintenberg, B Kruger, Zhihong Zhang, Heitor Matallo, Hakan Marstorp, Sara Minelli