India has hosted the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Desertification is the process through which fertile and productive land turns into degraded land which is unfit for agricultural activities.

The UNCCD meeting takes place every two years. The recent meet at Greater Noida was the 14th meeting.

Why is desertification a concern?
A variety of factors, both natural and human-induced, are known to cause degradation of land. Increasing populations and the resultant rise in demand for food and water, feed for cattle, and a wide variety of ecosystem services these offer, have prompted human beings to clear forests, use chemicals, cultivate multiple crops, and over-exploit groundwater. This has affected both the health and productivity of land. Natural processes such as rising global temperatures have put further pressure on the land.

A recent report by the International Resources Panel, a scientific body hosted by the UN Environment Programme, said that about 25 per cent of world’s land area has been degraded.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) too came out with a special report on land a few months ago, in which it said that the rate of soil erosion in many areas of the world was up to 100 times faster than the rate of soil formation.

Desertification has implications for food and water security, livelihoods and large scale human migration. Combating desertification refers to activities that prevent or reduce land degradation, and restore partially or fully degraded land.

What is the Convention to Combat Desertification?
The UNCCD is one of three Conventions that have come out of the historic 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio summit gave rise to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under which countries have agreed to restrict the emissions of greenhouse gases, first through the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and now through the Paris Agreement that was finalised in 2015 and becomes operational next year. It also gave rise to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which too has delivered an international arrangement to protect and use biodiversity. The UNCCD has not yet resulted in any international treaty or protocol to fight desertification.

The UNFCCC holds its general meetings every year, while CBD and CCD meet every two years.

Why was the need felt for such a convention?
At the time the UNCCD was born in Rio, degradation of land was mostly viewed as a localised problem, one that was mainly affecting countries in Africa. In fact, it was on the demand of the African countries that CCD came into being. The Convention repeatedly makes a mention of the special needs of Africa in fighting desertification.

Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that land degradation was impacting the global network of food and commodity supply chains. The crops being grown and the quantities in which they were being grown were dictated not by local needs but by global demands. Changes in food habits and international trade have altered cropping patterns in many areas. Large-scale migration to urban centres and industrial hubs has seen a heavy concentration of populations in small areas, putting unsustainable pressure on land and water resources.

As an issue, therefore, land degradation of land is, therefore, much more complex than it appears.

What change can be expected on the basis of a CCD meeting?
A meeting of the UNCCD is not expected to come up with any headline-grabbing decision. The discussions at the CCD have so far remained academic and technical, mainly focusing on the kinds of activities that can be undertaken to restore degraded lands. During the conference that is ending Friday, India announced that it would restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Working on a recent mandate of the CCD, countries are making efforts towards achieving what is called Land Degradation Neutrality, or LDN, within their territories, and trying to ensure that the amount and quality of land necessary to support ecosystem services and strengthen food security remains stable or increases within time periods targeted by them.

Source: The Indian Express