Why a scientific conference under the auspices of the UNCCD?
The 10-year strategy to enhance the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), that was adopted by the Conference of the Parties (COP) at its eighth session, in September 2007, sets out an operational objective on science, technology and knowledge. In order to strengthen the capacity of the Committee on Science and Technology (CST) to process scientific, technical and socio-economic information, it has been decided that special sessions of the CST would be organized in a scientific and technical conference-style format, focusing on one priority area. Consequently, the 1st UNCCD conference was organized in 2009 in Argentina on “monitoring and assessment of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD)” and the 2nd UNCCD scientific conference was organized in 2013 in Germany on “economic assessment of DLDD”. The 3rd UNCCD scientific conference is currently under preparation and will be held in March 2015 in Cancún (Mexico), on “combating DLDD for poverty reduction and sustainable development”.
Global changes will accentuate desertification, land degradation and drought, and the vulnerability of populations, particularly those living in drylands
Historically, the UNCCD has focused on drylands, which comprise highly diverse ecosystems covering 40% of the earth’s land surface. Even though not unique to drylands, DLDD occur mostly in all regions of the world that are characterized by persistent or cyclic water scarcity. These areas also tend to suffer from pronounced poverty, sometimes hunger, social inequity, poor access to knowledge and technology, underdeveloped markets, and weak institutions. Most of the world’s poor live in drylands, including 400 million people who survive on less than US$1 per day.
Farming within these areas provides multiple goods and services, as well as food and livelihood security, for millions of poor, mostly small landholder families. The agricultural systems and landscapes on which these families depend have been created, shaped and maintained by generations of farmers and herders based on available natural resources, and through the use of locally adapted management practices. These systems have been built on knowledge and experience, and reflect both the diversity of human knowledge and its profound relationship with nature. This must be recognized when addressing sustainable land management and socio-economic development.
Dryland agroecosystems are already subject to several environmental stresses, but global circulation models predict that climate change will hit currently dry areas hardest, which will exacerbate further DLDD and only add to inhabitants’ vulnerability. Moreover, it is feared that global changes will lead to further expansion of areas affected by DLDD.
How to stimulate the virtuous cycle between good environmental status, reduced vulnerability and sustainable development?
Benefits of preserving and restoring the health of ecosystems (and in particular agroecosystem) include reduced poverty, improved food security, better health and nutrition, conservation of natural resources and reduced social inequity. Failure to do so implies further land degradation on a local, national and global scale, which will further damage ecosystems’ capacity to provide life-supporting environmental services, and likely lead to more poverty, increased food insecurity, poorer nutrition, rising unemployment, rural exodus, and even greater social inequality, none of which bode well for political stability.
Science continues to find ways to combat land degradation through better management of natural resources including lands, soils, plants, water and the atmosphere. One example is climate smart agriculture, which relies on advanced technologies to adapt to climate change. These include the development of stress-tolerant crops and resilient production systems that achieve food security and livelihood goals but also conserve land, soil and water, enhance biodiversity, and protect the environment. But all who depend upon natural resources for their livelihood, whether directly or indirectly, must play a role in their sustainable use. Land users need increased awareness of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) issues and practices, better access to knowledge (academic, traditional, and local) and technological innovations, and in some instances, to make behavioral changes.
By allowing exchanges and discussions between scientists and the various stakeholders involved in the combat against DLDD, the 3rd UNCCD scientific conference will come up with new scientific insights and recommendations to policy makers (particularly those participating in UNCCD COP12 and UNFCCC COP21) on the assessment of vulnerability of lands to climate change and adaptive capacities, and realistic pathways to achieving a “land degradation neutral world”.