BlogField Focus Blog

Feb 15 2021

Global Action on Land Degradation Offers a Win-Win Solution for People and the Planet

This blog was originally published by Impakter.

By Rachel McMonagle, Climate Change and Land Tenure Specialist at Landesa

In Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region, more than a million acres of mangrove and upland forests are quietly strengthening the climate resilience of thousands of neighboring villages. Mangroves sequester four times as much carbon as rainforests, act as a buffer to protect coastal farmland from storm surges and soil erosion, and are home to fish and crab that are central to the food security and livelihoods of local communities. In this way, Landesa’s efforts to certify the forest rights of local communities and restore degraded mangrove forests contribute to climate adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity conservation, and poverty reduction through one powerful action.

To advance win-win climate solutions like mangrove protection, people all around the world gathered virtually on Jan. 25 and 26 for a whirlwind two days at the Climate Adaptation Summit. The Dutch government hosted and delivered an Adaptation Action Agenda to encourage global cooperation for “a transformational decade towards 2030.”

With the globe woefully behind on making the necessary changes to address and adapt to climate change, do we really need yet another new agenda? What is needed is action (and support for action) on existing global frameworks, and the overlapping opportunities they provide.

The blueprint for transforming our planet has already been drafted. Both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) clearly articulate the action steps for national governments to advance land restoration and mitigate and adapt to climate change. When environmental degradation is minimized and restoration efforts are prioritized, ecosystems can sequester and store more carbon and lessen the impact of some climate change effects.

Unsurprisingly, these same environmental commitments are captured in Goal 15 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), concerning land degradation. Given that national commitments to the UNFCCC and UNCCD are aligned with SDG 15, the lack of progress on land degradation among member states is all the move vexing.

Five years after the SDGs were set in motion and a third of the way into their implementation timeframe, a new brief assesses how far we have come: what have countries done to address their ambitious but critical, cross-cutting commitments to combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world? After reviewing 42 of the 47 Voluntary National Reviews, the brief reports that only seven countries had reported on indicator SDG 15.3.1 on degraded lands as of August 2020. Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the mutually reinforcing incentives of the SDGs, UNFCCC, and UNCCD, this number is discouraging.

Fortunately, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) on Feb. 22-23 offers an opportunity to explore this reality with its theme “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” As member states and stakeholders prepare to participate in UNEA-5, there is much to learn from the brief on Progress Towards the SDG Land Degradation and Restoration Commitments. Here are just a few opportunities to act in a more concerted way:

  1. Recognize the centrality of land tenure and natural resource governance to climate mitigation and adaptation. Securing land rights for responsible land stewards and enacting sustainable land management plans is marked as success across the SDGs, UNFCCC, and UNCCD.
  2. Identify alignment across frameworks and treaties addressing land degradation and restoration to ease reporting challenges. For governments with limited resources and capacity, reporting requirements can seem daunting. By highlighting alignment, governments are incentivized to act on a metric that can yield progress across several agendas. With land issues impacting social, economic, and environmental outcomes, it makes for an easy choice to focus on action.
  3. Promote reporting on progress so that other countries may learn from and be inspired by solutions that work. The highly visible and powerful platform provided by the SDGs only works if it catalyzes action. It must provide governments with incentives to act, it must offer effective advocacy levers to civil society organizations, and it must help the broad array of stakeholders working on land degradation remain strategically aligned.

Land degradation neutrality is daunting, but not impossible. And often the solutions are simple, even if the implementation is challenging: protect forests and land, and the people stewarding them. That’s an agenda we can all remember.

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