We can't fight climate change without action on land degradation
Five years into the Sustainable Development Goals, land rights advocacy group finds little progress toward land degradation neutrality, with severe consequences for the fight against climate change
Only seven countries have reported taking steps to address land degradation, according to a report by the SDG Land Momentum Group.
The SDG Land Momentum Group issued a warning that the world was lagging in its efforts to achieve land degradation neutrality, a critical front in the global response to climate change with implications for global food security, biodiversity, and climate justice.
The report, Progress towards the SDG land degradation and restoration commitments, based on a survey of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) submitted by member states to the UN in 2020, found that only a handful of countries had reported on progress toward national commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goal 15, which concerns efforts to ‘protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and half and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss’.
An analysis of 42 VNRs submitted to the United Nations 2020 High Level Political Forum on the SDGs found that only seven countries -- Benin, Georgia, India, Kenya, Morocco, Niger and Seychelles – had reported national data on SDG Indicator 15.3.1, concerning ‘the proportion of land that is degraded over total land area’. While organisers applauded those countries for their reported contributions, the available data is insufficient to inform efforts to combat desertification and restore degraded land and soil.
The sparse reporting on land degradation data leaves policymakers, researchers, donor groups and other stakeholders with little information on where to focus and prioritise resources and funding to help countries meet their national commitments to combat desertification, drought, and biodiversity loss and achieve land degradation neutrality.
Land degradation is a grave threat to global food security, biodiversity, and our ability to respond to climate change. Already, an estimated 25% of the world’s surface land is degraded, negatively impacting the lives and livelihoods of some 3.2 billion people, the majority of whom are smallholder farmers and those living in rural poverty.
To combat the growing threat that land degradation poses to people in rural areas, advocates and rights groups have urged governments to invest in legal reforms to strengthen land rights. Evidence shows that individuals and communities with stronger land rights are more likely to have both the incentive and the resources to make productivity enhancing investments in land that build resilience to climate change. Stronger land rights encourage the uptake of climate smart activities such as improved irrigation, terracing, agroforestry, and other sustainable farming practices, which can mitigate climate change, halt land degradation, and help improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and other land users.