The governance challenge of a land degradation neutral world

Compelling discussion, commentary, stories on agriculture within thriving ecosystems.

This blog is part of the Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog’s month-long series on Restoring Landscapes.

In the outcome document of Rio+20, the international community identified the need to take actions on land and soils and committed to strive to achieve a land-degradation-neutral world (LDNW) within the context of sustainable development. The conference also set in motion a process to develop universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Soil and water conservation in the Mount Kenya region. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT A land degradation neutral world needs to be people centered. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

The development of SDGs offers the opportunity to put soils and land on the global sustainable development agenda. Clare Short, Former UK Secretary of State for International Development has said world leaders need to wake up to growing consequences of degraded ecosystems, such as high food prices and hunger and include the issue of land degradation in the SDGs. But in order to get there, the existing governance challenge needs to be tackled.

The achievement of a Land Degradation Neutral World presents a governance challenge that should be taken into account when 1) defining the aspects of a LDNW and 2) building consensus in the land and soil community.

Outlining a Land Degradation Neutral World

There are diverse opinions on the feasibility of achieving a land degradation neutral world. In its literal sense, land degradation neutrality would imply that land degradation has to be minimized and that unavoidable land degradation needs to be offset by restoration efforts.

But there is more than meets the eye, soil and land degradation is not seen as only a physical and biochemical issue. It is very often linked to socio-economic aspects. For instance, poor and marginalized populations are usually found to be the most affected by land and soil degradation.  Moreover, soil and land degradation is perceived as much a governance issue as it is a technical one. This implies that security of access and gender aspects play a role and would need to be addressed.

The third meeting of the Open Working Group on SDGs concluded that poverty eradication should remain as the overarching objective and central proposal of the SDGs, as well as the importance of balancing all three dimensions of sustainable development in a holistic way. Following this thinking, actions towards land restoration will be most effective for sustainable development if the specific needs of poor people and vulnerable groups are taken into account.

Alliances must be formed in order to move forward

An article on SciDev.Net raises some concerns over the struggle scientists are facing to put land degradation into the SDGs. A lack of data and poor communication by scientists are identified as obstacles. However, it is widely accepted in the scientific and political community that soil and land degradation poses a great challenge for sustainable development.

But how can we scientists communicate this information effectively enough to include land and soil degradation on the global sustainable development agenda?

Generating more information on soil and land degradation would be a start. But this is exactly what the community is attempting to achieve by having these issues placed in the SDGs. The inclusion of soil and land resources in the SDGs and the Post-2015 Development Agenda can contribute to reinforcing the demand for soil and land information. Such demand can lead to the production of this information into the future, as has been the case for specific topics in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

Better communication and collaboration between decision-makers in society and scientists is also necessary.  This is one of the goals of Global Soil Week (27-31 October in Berlin), which is hosted by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies together with partners.

At this year’s Global Soil Week, stakeholders will discuss a process to reach a common proposal by the land and soil community and the opportunities for the integration of this proposal in the SDGs and Post-2015 Development Agenda. This type of multi-stakeholder platform is necessary to foster the emergence of alliances for change among these and other soil and land-related initiatives, to contribute to the exchange of knowledge and for the implementation of actions.

Partners of the Global Soil Week are the IASS, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the United Nations Environment Programme, the European Commission, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (giz) and the German Federal Environment Agency.

For more information and a full list of references, see the full version of this post on the Global Soil Week Blog.

The plenary sessions of the event will be live-streamed at Follow us at @GlobalSoilWeek on twitter and use #soilweek to feed the twitter stream.