Global Conference to Combat Desertification Begins with India Playing Host

The conference will deliberate on the actions that the 196 partner countries need to take to combat desertification, reverse land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought.

New Delhi: The 14th Conference of Parties (COP 14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) kicked off at the India Expo Centre and Mart in Greater Noida on Monday. India will assume the COP presidency for the next two years, taking over from China where the previous conference was held.

The conference will deliberate on the actions that the 196 partner countries need to take to combat desertification, reverse land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought. At the end of the conference, the member countries will sign the ‘New Delhi Declaration’, which will provide the pathway for future actions to meet the UNCCD goals for 2018-2030.

Prakash Javadekar, Union minister for environment, forests and climate change, said that despite the prevailing sense of ‘doomsday’ with respect to climate change, he remains optimistic.

“We must have faith in our actions. I am confident that if human actions have caused damaged in the form of climate change, degradation of land and loss of biodiversity then human actions, intelligence, intent and technology can also restore land, ecology and environment,” he said, as he welcomed delegates at the conference.

Also read: Need to Change Ties With Land, Food to Avert Large Scale Climate Crisis: UN Report

About a fourth of the world’s arable land already stands degraded. The situation in India is even worse as nearly 30% of its land area has been impacted by degradation, according to a 2016 study by the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The world continues to lose 23 hectares of arable land every minute, threatening food security as nearly all our calorie intake is dependent on land. The latest report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that human activity is directly impacting over 70% of the earth’s ice-free land surface.

Highlighting the contribution of land to the process of climate change, the report also noted that agriculture and other land use activities account for 23% of the total human caused greenhouse gas emissions. If the impact of pre and post production activities is included, the global food system accounts for 37% of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by human beings. 

As land degrades it also exacerbates climate change as the ability of land to absorb carbon dioxide reduces with increased degradation.

Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, outlined the importance of restoring land that has been degraded. “Land feeds people. It is extremely important to keep feeding the world but what to do to keep doing so. Unfortunately, we have degraded 25% of land globally which is unusable. Using the human intelligence and technology we must restore the land,” he said.

The restoration of land gains significance because it can act as an ally in combating climate change, the latest IPCC report has said. “Sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies,” it said.

Also read: As India Runs out of Water, Its Desertified Land Comes Into View

Afforestation can contribute by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which is stored in tree trunks, roots, branches and leaves. The pace of afforestation, however, will have to increase substantially and current trends are worrying as evidenced by the recent forest fires in the Amazon rainforest. The fires which have increased 85% compared to last year are caused, in part, by increased deforestation.

The conference to combat desertification will continue till September 13 after which ministers from member countries will announce targets for land restoration.

Ahead of the conference, India announced its intention to restore 50 lakh hectare of degraded land by 2030. But, as India Spend has pointed out this is 28.5 percentage points lower than the total land that has been degraded in the country. In other words, India has committed to restoring only 5% of its degraded land as an estimated 960 lakh hectare of land stands degraded.