Agriculture, Environment, GS-3

Explained: How world is losing fertile land

The UNCCD meeting takes place every two years and the ongoing one in Greater Noida is the 14th such meeting. Since this meeting is taking place in India this time so it becomes significant for UPSC.

Why is desertification a concern?

A variety of factors, both natural and human-induced, are known to be affecting the productivity of land, and making them desert-like.

Increasing populations and the resultant rise in demand for food and water, feed for cattle, and a wide variety of ecosystem services these offer, have prompted human beings to clear forests, use chemicals, cultivate multiple crops, and over-exploit groundwater. This has affected both the health and productivity of land.

Natural processes such as rising global temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, and changing weather patterns have put further pressure on the land.

A recent report by the International Resources Panel, a scientific body hosted by the UN Environment Programme, said that about 25 per cent of world’s land area has been degraded. Another report, by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said that nearly 40 per cent of world’s population was being impacted negatively because of land degradation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) too came out with a special report on land a few months ago, in which it said that the rate of soil erosion in many areas of the world was up to 100 times faster than the rate of soil formation.

Desertification has implications for food and water security, livelihoods, migration, conflicts and even international security. Combating desertification refers to activities that prevent or reduce land degradation, and restore partially or fully degraded land.

What is the Convention to Combat Desertification?

The UNCCD is one of three Conventions that have come out of the historic 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The Rio summit gave rise to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under which countries have agreed to restrict the emissions of greenhouse gases, first through the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and now through the Paris Agreement that was finalised in 2015 and becomes operational next year.

It also gave rise to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which too has delivered an international arrangement to protect and use biodiversity.

The UNCCD has not yet resulted in any international treaty or protocol to fight desertification.

The UNFCCC holds its general meetings every year, while CBD and CCD meet every two years.

Why was the need felt for such a convention?

At the time the UNCCD was born in Rio, degradation of land was mostly viewed as a localised problem.

Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that land degradation was impacting the global network of food and commodity supply chains and was getting impacted in return. The crops being grown and the quantities in which they were being grown were dictated not by local needs but by global demands. Changes in food habits and international trade have altered cropping patterns in many areas.

Large-scale migration to urban centres and industrial hubs has seen a heavy concentration of populations in small areas, putting unsustainable pressure on land and water resources.

As an issue, therefore, land degradation of land is, therefore, much more complex than it appears.

To what extent does land degradation fit into the context of climate change?

Forests, trees and vegetation cover are important sinks of carbon dioxide. Land degradation, therefore, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed, and consequently leads to a rise in emissions.

At the same time, agriculture and activities such as cattle rearing contribute to emissions and are a major source of methane which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Restoration of degraded land can, therefore, have major co-benefits for climate change objectives.

What change can be expected on the basis of a CCD meeting?

Working on a recent mandate of the CCD, countries are making efforts towards achieving what is called Land Degradation Neutrality, or LDN, within their territories, and trying to ensure that the amount and quality of land necessary to support ecosystem services and strengthen food security remains stable or increases within time periods targeted by them.

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