Thursday, February 16, 2012

Environment: UN To Grant 'Land for Life Award' At Rio+20

By Jutta Wolf
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BERLIN (IDN) - Less than one week before the Rio+20 conference from June 20 to 22 in Brazil to commemorate the historic Earth Summit twenty years ago, the United Nations will grant a 'Land for Life Award' to honour initiatives aimed at sustainable land development.

The Bonn-based secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Diversification (UNCCD) is inviting applications by February 29 for the award, which will be granted on the World Day to Combat Desertification observed every year on June 17 around the world.

"The award will go to inspiring initiatives which secure the health and productivity of soil for the well-being of present and future generations," said the UNCCD secretariat, adding: "The prize will be awarded to those efforts which reduce land degradation through sustainable land management, or are outstanding examples of political leadership, policy, business, advocacy campaigns or scientific research."

The (Land for Life Award) Jury particularly welcomes nominations of candidates whose work is: "innovative, collaborative, achieved in partnership across sectors, supports free knowledge sharing and capacity building, empowers vulnerable and marginalized groups, and fosters gender equality, cultural diversity and social inclusion."

The Award Jury is hoping to receive nominations from individuals, institutions, non-governmental organizations and civil society, private sector, academic and research organizations, policy makers as well as journalists and media.

The Land for Life award is motivated by the fact that every minute, land equivalent to the size of a football field becomes unproductive, lost to degradation through desertification and drought. At the same time, world population is growing rapidly, estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050.

"There are only two options to meet the needs of future generations: to further cut down forests, or to make degraded land productive. Solutions for restoring degraded lands already exist: communities, scientists, policy makers and others are already at work, but their efforts are under appreciated, and therefore, underutilized," notes the UNCCD secretariat.

The consequences of land degradation can indeed be severe, and people in the drylands are particularly vulnerable. It is estimated that more than half of land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. Without productive land, people face hunger and poverty. Struggles for resources lead to conflict, and people are forced to leave their homes, searching for better lives as economic migrants and environmental refugees.

What is worse, land degradation does not only occur in the drylands. It can happen anywhere in the world and is often caused by human activities such as over-cultivation, deforestation, and poorly planned irrigation systems. When land is degraded, it emits more greenhouse gases and in turn worsens climate change.

But land degradation is not God given and does not have to be permanent. Recent studies show that up to two billion hectares of degraded land and forest globally have the potential for restoration. There are many ways to restore degraded land, such as through enriching soil, planting trees and diversifying crop and animal production. Restoring degraded lands can also offer solutions to climate change, as healthy soils and vegetation store more carbon.

Studies point out that there are many benefits to sustainable land management, which can simultaneously conserve natural resources and increase yields. These benefits can include:

- Increased crop yields and food security

- Local access to sustainable fuel and energy sources

- Clean water

- Increased vegetation cover preventing erosion

- Preservation of soil moisture, enabling soil development and mitigating degradation

- Optimised water, nutrient, carbon and biomass cycle

- Preservation of biodiversity at the farm level through agroforestry, intercropping and locally adapted seed

- Reconsituting carbon pools in soil and vegetation cover resulting in less carbon emissions

- Reducing floods through regulation of river, lake and groundwater levels

- Protection of cultural heritage and natural landscapes through promoting practices that utilize indigenous knowledge.

Convinced that everyone can make a difference, from ordinary individuals and farmers to political leaders, businesses, scientists and media, the UNCCD had decided to grant the award. Through sustainable land management, dry and degraded land can become an asset. Besides, there are many ways to support sustainable land management through policy, innovation, changing agricultural practices and education and awareness raising.

The importance of the UNCCD is underlined by the fact that more than one billion people inhabiting drylands in some 100 countries are caught in the pangs of poverty and excruciating hunger.

Every minute, 23 hectares of land are degraded through drought and desertification, eating into the economic, social and environmental pillars of our sustainable development. Drylands comprise one-third of the world land mass and population, 44% of the global food production system, and 50% of the world's livestock. In addition, dry forests are home to the world's largest diversity of mammals whose survival, literally, hangs on the arid zone forests.

UNCCD's Mohamadou Mansour N'Diaye told IDN in a recent interview that it hopes the Rio+20 conference will take "bold actions towards setting ambitious but attainable targets" that include a "global Zero Net Rate of Land Degradation."

UNCCD is one of the three conventions emerging from the Earth Summit in June 1992. Since then, land degradation has escalated, drought cycles have spread to virtually all parts of the world, not just some ecosystems (arid, semi-arid and dry sub humid areas) already identified, said N'Diaye.

"The actions to be implemented thus become global. 40% of the terrestrial ecosystems are concerned and some 2 billion people are faced with multiple challenges relating to DLDD (desertification, land degradation and drought)," he added.

At the Rio Summit, which will also mark the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, N'Diaye said, "we call on the world leaders to further express their resolve to address DLDD worldwide through taking bold actions towards setting ambitious but attainable targets that include a 'global Zero Net Rate of Land Degradation'."

Setting such a target would be instrumental in the sense that it would open possibilities to assess the global status of desertification and land degradation on a scientific basis, he added. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 15, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: Fertile land with 'Land for Life' Award Logo | GlobalomMedia Collage