Land is a complex mixture of soil, water and biodiversity. Working together, these three elements create goods and services that provide a foundation for sustainable livelihoods and peaceful co-existence between peoples. Yet land degradation is putting the health, livelihoods and security of an estimated 3.2 billion people at risk.
Land degradation is any reduction or loss in the biological or economic productive capacity of the land resource base. Natural processes play a part, but humans cause most of the damage. Often, the process of degradation is inextricably linked to loss of biodiversity and the impacts of climate change.
The international community is working to halt and reverse land degradation, restore degraded ecosystems and sustainably manage our resources through a commitment to land degradation neutrality (LDN). Currently, the global cost of land degradation reaches about US$490 billion per year, much higher than the cost of action to prevent it.
The concept of LDN emerged from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012. LDN responds to an immediate challenge: intensifying the production of food, fuel and fiber to meet future demand without further degrading our finite land resource base. In other words, LDN envisions a world where human activity has a neutral, or even positive, impact on the land.
In 2015, the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP 12) adopted 35 decisions related to desertification, land degradation and drought. These included how to pursue LDN within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how to align UNCCD goals and the action of Parties with the SDGs. As a follow-up, the UNCCD Secretariat launched a new initiative: Land Degradation Neutrality, which has been enshrined in the SDGs as target 15.3 on achieving a land degradation neutral world by 2030.
What We Do
Through the Land Degradation focal area, the GEF has concentrated on sustainable land management. Beginning in 2016, we began integrating land degradation neutrality into our programs.
As a financial mechanism for UNCCD, the GEF is supporting Land Degradation Neutrality implementation. Initially, the Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Project provided technical assistance to a voluntary group of more than 60 countries with diverse socio-ecological conditions. It helped them mainstream LDN into their National Action Programmes to UNCCD’s Strategic Plan. Through the GEF, the project helps countries in planning how to recover their landscapes.Up to now, 120 countries have set voluntary LDN targets as a result of this initiative.
The alignment of the GEF-7 LD Focal Area strategy with the LDN concept and the design of the GEF-7 Impact Program on Sustainable Dryland Landscapes is a major contribution to implementing voluntary LDN targets in an increasing number of countries. This reflects the importance of GEF support for the implementation of the Convention and for mobilizing additional sustainable financing and responsible and sustainable investments that address desertification, land degradation, and drought issues.
A restored landscape can accommodate a suite of land uses including protected reserves, ecological corridors, regenerated forests, well-managed plantations, agroforestry systems (or other agricultural systems that make use of on-farm trees) and plantings along waterways.
Restored lands support livelihoods and biodiversity, supply clean water, reduce erosion, provide biomass fuel and produce forest products. Trees in agricultural landscapes can enhance soil fertility, conserve soil moisture and boost food production.
Forests and trees can also mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon; on a large scale, restoration could reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Restoration can help people weather the impacts of climate change, helping adapt to global warming by ensuring water supplies or reducing the impacts of catastrophic storms.
Through its LDN implementation support projects, the GEF helps show how countries can achieve LDN in the short and medium term. At the same time, the projects point to the social and economic benefits available over the short, medium and long term. Up to now, GEF has supported 20 countries in LDN implementation, a number that is expected to rapidly increase in the course of GEF-7.
GEF financing has supported integrated approaches to combat land degradation on three levels. At the regional level, our support for transboundary collaboration has enabled neighboring countries to address common threats to production systems. At the national level, our funds have helped governments enact legislation and develop policy that support decentralization; these changes, in turn, enable subnational and local governments to make decisions related to natural resource management more easily.
In India, our funds supported a national project to increase sustainability and climate resilience in the agriculture sector through innovative practices for management of land, water and genetic resources. In addition, at the state level, we enabled the Uttarakhand government to address soil erosion in the fragile Himalaya watersheds. Ultimately, this project will transform an estimated 1.6 million hectares to sustainable management, establishing a stronger foundation for prosperity and resilience to climate change in the highlands.