World Soil Conference ends with resolutions on drought management and land restoration

Judith Rosendahl

As with the UN Climate Change Conference, almost 200 UNCCD member states meet regularly to pass resolutions on the further implementation of the convention. A key goal is to stop the depletion of fertile soils by 2030.

Delegierte während des Gender Caucus auf der UNCCD COP15 © IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

GIZ

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is a globally active provider of international cooperation for sustainable development. It has more than 50 years of experience in a wide range of fields.  

After the prior conference had been postponed by several months due to Covid-19, about 7,000 representatives from almost 200 countries met in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from 9 to 20 May for the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD (COP15). Germany is one of the strongest supporters of the United Nations Conventions to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – not only as a contributor, but also as an active participant through a large portfolio of soil protection projects.

 

Along with the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UNCCD is one of the three Rio Conventions and the only legally binding international agreement in the soil/land sector. Furthermore, it is also the only one of the Rio Conventions that combines environmental protection with sustainable development and explicitly aims to improve the living conditions of affected populations. The main objective of the convention is to combat desertification, land degradation and drought and to implement ‘land degradation neutrality’. Land degradation neutrality is also enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goal is to first avoid land degradation, secondly reduce it, and thirdly reverse it until the end result is ‘net zero’. However, recent figures reveal once again that soil degradation is one of the most pressing global environmental problems that will continue to worsen without rapid remedial action: about 20–40 per cent of the global soil is already degraded, affecting 3.2 billion people, especially rural communities, smallholders and the very poor. BMZ Secretary of State Jochen Flasbarth, who headed the German delegation, opines:

 

‘We’re facing the enormous challenge of dealing with several crises at the same time: hunger, climate change, Covid-19, war and the resulting global market upsets. The continuing depletion of fertile soils all over the world reduces our resilience to respond to these crises.’

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Opening of the UNCCD COP15 in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire © IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

 

The agenda of the conference covered various topics, focusing on drought, restoration of degraded land and synergies with the other two UN conventions. Sustainable land management and the restoration of degraded land is considered to be the main solution to the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation. After all, sustainable land utilisation is the key to achieving many SDGs and improving the combined effect of the various environmental agreements. In light of the global increase in the frequency and severity of droughts with severe consequences to people, economies and ecosystems, the sometimes heated discussions were focused on drought risk management and drought impact mitigation. Another focus for Germany was securing land use rights. Land users need secure land rights to invest in sustainable land management. Therefore, land restoration measures need to protect the legitimate property rights of all.

 

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) supports the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, which oversees this area for the German government, in the negotiations. It also provides permanent support in the convention process and was part of the German delegation. GIZ was also involved in some of the many side events, where specific technical solutions were presented and experiences were exchanged. For example, this time discussions centred on degraded cocoa cultivation areas and the economic arguments for sustainable land management of the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative.

 

Beyond specific individual topics, the conference was also considered an important cue, setting the tone for the expected level of ambition of the subsequent conferences on climate and biodiversity to follow later in the year. The results include resolutions on improving drought resilience, investing in measures to restore degraded land, respecting land rights in these measures, and increased synergies between the Rio Conventions.

 

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