Land degradation and desertification are issues of both global and EU concern. They are caused by many factors including population growth, poor land management, climate change and deforestation. Actions to address land degradation are key to address other environmental issues such as climate change, water and biodiversity, as well as ensuring food security and alleviating poverty.
The EU is working with its partners and with the international community in many ways to address the challenges related to soil and land degradation and is active in developing a global policy framework for soil and land protection and restoration.
Sustainable development goals
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015. Healthy land and soils play an important role in achieving more than half of the goals. These include the goals on food security, food safety and human health, urban development, reducing poverty, clean water, responsible production, land management, climate change and overall biodiversity preservation.
Target 15.3 on land degradation neutrality commits the following:
“by 2030 to combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world”
UN Food and Agriculture Organization
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has developed a common vision and an integrated approach towards sustainability across agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Soil protection features high in the organisation’s work and a number of policy, knowledge base and awareness raising activities have been developed over the recent years.
The organisation established a voluntary Global Soil Partnership in 2012. The main objective is to promote sustainable soil management and improve soil governance to guarantee healthy and productive soils.
Regional soil partnerships were also established, including the European Soil Partnership to provide guidance on goals and priorities within specific regions and to develop relevant activities within each region.
UN Convention to Combat Desertification
Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Established in 1994, the UNCCD is the most ratified environmental convention. It is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. Its objective is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in affected countries, particularly in Africa. Thirteen EU Member States have declared that they are affected parties under the Convention.
The Convention’s 197 parties, including the EU and its 27 Member States, work together to
- improve the living conditions for people in drylands
- maintain and restore land and soil productivity
- and mitigate the effects of drought
As land, climate and biodiversity are intimately connected, the UNCCD collaborates closely with the other two Rio Conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
In 2017, the UNCCD adopted its 2018-2030 Strategic Framework, which focuses on achieving Sustainable Development Goal target 15.3.
The European Commission funds a large number of land degradation and desertification-related projects, such as the Soil Atlas for Europe and the World Atlas on Desertification, as well as the Economics of Land Degradation and the Great Green Wall initiatives.
Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force in 1993 to conserve biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
In 2002 an International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Soil Biodiversity was established. This initiative should make better use of the current knowledge on soil biodiversity and ecosystem services rather than starting new research.
In 2018, several targets relevant to soil and land protection were adopted. The most prominent one promotes the conservation and sustainable use of soil biodiversity.
Find out more about the EU’s aim for an ambitious global agreement at the next Conference of the Parties (COP 15).
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is an independent intergovernmental body. It aims to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development. Among the most significant milestones relevant for soil and land:
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed in 1992, is the main international treaty on fighting climate change. Its objective is to prevent dangerous man-made interference with the global climate system. The EU and all its member countries are among the 197 Parties of the Convention.
Climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems. Increasing impacts on land are projected under all future greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
Many land-related responses that contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation can also combat desertification and land degradation and enhance food security. Many activities for combating desertification can contribute to climate change adaptation with mitigation co-benefits, as well as to halting biodiversity loss with sustainable development co-benefits to society. Avoiding, reducing and reversing desertification would enhance soil fertility, increase carbon storage in soils and biomass, while benefitting agricultural productivity and food security.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides governments with scientific information to develop climate policies. In particular the Special report Climate Change and Land (2019) provides scientific evidence on how land degradation is increasing climate change, how climate change is accelerating land degradation processes, notably desertification, and how many land-related responses that contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation can also combat desertification and land degradation and enhance food security.
The United Nations Environment Programme is the global environmental authority with programmes focusing on climate, nature, pollution and sustainable development
UNEP launched the International Resource Panel in 2007, as a follow up to the Commission’s Thematic Strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources. It aims to build and share the knowledge needed to improve our use of resources worldwide. The Panel consists of eminent scientists with expertise in resource management issues. It studies key questions around global resource use and produces assessment reports that distil the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic findings to inform decision-making.
Among the most significant milestones relevant for soil and land: