International Conference Discusses Ways to Operationalize Zero-Net Land Degradation

15 November 2012: The fourth international conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification (DDD) gathered over 350 participants at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Sede Boqer Campus, Israel, to define ways to operationalize the outcomes from the UN Conference for Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) for dylands and desertification.

The Conference commenced with a tribute to Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the late Wangari Maathai (Kenya), for her role in bringing global attention to the idea of land restoration through her tree-planting work. Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), praised Maathai for taking responsibility by responding through action and reaching out to those in her circle to influence change.

Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University, offered a keynote address during which he discussed overpopulation as an indirect driver of desertification. He said “land degradation is the biggest part of the human predicament, yet the least understood scientifically and least discussed by politicians.”

The Conference discussed the Rio+20 outcome call for zero-net land degradation, and sought to define this objective as a concrete goal and to identify operational targets related to the objective. Gnacadja noted the concept of zero-net land degradation provides the opportunity to frame land and soil degradation as global issues, and to ensure that sustainable land management and restoration are reflected everywhere at every scale. He underscored that "policy action should build and capitalize on grassroots level success stories on land restoration.”

In the concluding session to compile a draft framework for actions taken to operationalize zero-net land degradation, Alain Grainger, University of Leeds, said monitoring restoration through revegetation of the land is easier than determining the rate at which degradation is reduced due to a lack of baseline data and the scientific capacity to measure the latter. He suggested an implementation with three phases. At first, the focus would be on restoring degraded lands, improving national land-use planning systems and expanding international and national monitoring capacities, for example, by establishing a panel on land to advise and identify indicators, and by establishing a Global Desertification Observation System.

In addition, Michael Cherlet, Joint Research Center, presented the new World Atlas on Desertification. The Conference was supported by, among other sponsors, the UNCCD Secretariat and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO). [UNCCD Press Release] [Meeting Webpage]