We live in a world where desertification (i.e. land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas) affects one-sixth of the population, seventy per cent of all dry lands and one-fourth of the land resources on the planet. The land is, by far, one of the most precious as well as scarce resources on Earth with about 1.5 billion people directly depending on it, and globally, twenty-four per cent of it is degrading. Since natural regeneration of vegetation in arid areas takes about 5-10 times more time than the favorable areas, it’s become extremely difficult to prevent the spread of deserts. The direct consequence of this includes loss of biodiversity, a mass exodus of large human populations from areas affected by land degradation to urban areas, no food security and, of course, scarcity of water.
There are no simple causes that explain the increase in land degradation but multiple factors that interact in complex ways. The main factors are climatic, especially low soil moisture, rainfall patterns, and evaporation. The indirect drivers are mostly human-derived and include sub-optimal use of land, mismanagement of technology and other resources, local and global market trends and sociopolitical dynamics.
Recognizing the severity of this, the United Nations General Assembly declared the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (UNDDD) that runs from January 2010 to December 2020 to promote action against the same. The decade campaign is open to all, but is spearheaded by the UN agencies tasked with this role by the UNGA, most importantly the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification or the UNCCD that holds a Conference of Parties every year, the fourteenth of which was organized this year from 2nd to 13th September in New Delhi.
It was the first conference of the United Nations to be hosted by the Republic of India with participation from delegates, state representatives and ministers of over 196 countries. The UNCCD COP 14(Conference of Parties) was presided by Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India, elected by the attending delegates. The UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, in his opening address, emphasized to the delegates for “translation of knowledge (obtained from science on methods to combat desertification) into policies”. Delegates from various countries put forward the effects of desertification in their respective countries and elaborated on the work done by their countries to meet the targets set by the previous convention (UNCCD COP 13 in Ordos, China ).
A deep concern was expressed by Palestine on behalf of the G-77/China about the lack of ambition in the measures taken by the convention to fight desertification which was increasing at an ever-present rate. Finland, speaking for the EU, urged for an improvement in the reach of UNCCD while Iraq focused on the effects of migration and possible solutions for the sand and dust storms. The convention also discussed how desertification was affecting the Biodiversity hotspots, droughts and flash floods caused in the drought-hit region as the land lost the capacity to store water. The committee also discussed and recognized the community-led initiatives to combat desertification.
The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi addressed the Convention on 9th September 2019 discussing the ‘Jal Shakti Ministry’, a new initiative of the Indian government to address and look for solutions of all water-related issues. He detailed the revision of India’s land restoration targets from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares by 2030 to create a carbon sink of nearly three billion metric tonnes and talked about the increase of India’s tree cover by 0.8 million hectares. He stressed on the importance of teamwork to fight climate change and discussed various schemes for the sustainable development of the farms of India.
The convention also took into consideration the progress of the Great Green Wall For Sahara and the Sahel Initiative in planting an 8000 km-long line of trees (and plants) across the pan-Sahara in 12 African countries to halt desertification and share the technologies required to combat desertification to local farmers. The convention mainly focused on the targets set for 2030 and how a country’s government’s work would be monitored to ensure the implementation of measures in an efficient way. The uses of natural resources to fight desertification which posed serious threats to biodiversity and increased the risk of climate change were also discussed. The convention emphasized the sharing of technologies between parties and welcomed the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-30). The UNCCD also extended a welcome to any investments or work done by private sector stakeholders.
The conference agreed upon the adoption of the Delhi Declaration, a commitment to take strong actions on issues ranging from ecosystem restoration and climate change to private sector engagement. The committee has also agreed on speeding up the recovery of 5 million hectares of degraded land in India. What this means for the world citizens and the global economy is yet to be seen but an effort by every citizen is very much needed to ensure the handling of the effects of climate change and to imporve the state of the world we live in.