Chapter 4.1 – The Importance of Land Restoration for Achieving a Land Degradation–Neutral World

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By Luca Montanarella, European Commission, DG Joint Research Centre (JRC), Ispra, Italy


The concept of a “land degradation neutral world” emerged during the final negotiations at the 2012 Rio + 20 Sustainable Development Conference. It was the result of a compromise in wording that followed the original proposal by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) for the conference to endorse a “zero net land degradation” target. Since it arose out of political negotiations, a precise scientific definition of a land degradation neutral world is lacking. The UNCCD recently established an Intersessional Working Group (IWG) to further define this concept, which should lead to a better understanding of the term itself and of the practical implications involved in implementing such a target. Land degradation neutrality implies a balance between degradation processes and restoration activities. While a large amount of scientific research has been devoted to the assessment of land degradation, only limited information is available on the best practices for land restoration. There are some countries in the world, such as Iceland and Australia, that have long-standing traditions of land restoration and often apply very effective participatory approaches involving the local populations. In general, however, land restoration has only been applied in very limited areas and without an overall implementation framework. Adopting a sustainable development goal regarding land degradation neutrality will require an in-depth analysis of land restoration practices and the development of clear criteria for their evaluation and impact assessments. These criteria will have to be linked to broader concepts related to the ecological restoration of ecosystems, thus also contributing to the Aichi Target 15 of the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD), which aims to restore at least 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020. Case studies from various parts of the world already document the feasibility of such a target.

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About the Author

Luca Montanarella is the Action Leader in SOIL at the Land Resource Management/ SOIL action Unit at the Institute for Environment and Sustainability.

Working since 1992 as scientific project manager in the European Commission. Leading the Soil Data and Information Systems activities of the Joint Research Centre in support to the EU Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection and numerous other soil related policies, like the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the UNCCD, UNFCCC, CBD, etc…

Responsible of the European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC), the European Soil Information System (EUSIS) and the European Soil Bureau Network (ESBN).
Recently in charge of supporting the establishment of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) at FAO.

Currently chairing the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS) and the IPBES thematic assessment on land degradation and restoration (LDR).

1978-1984 Study of Agriculture Sciences at the University of Perugia, graduated in agricultural engineering at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Perugia, Italy;

1978-1984 Study of Agriculture Sciences at the University of Perugia, graduated in agricultural engineering at 1984-1985 post-doctoral study at the Centre for Biopharmaceutical Sciences, University of Leiden, The Netherlands,

1986 Visiting Scientist at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Groningen, The Netherlands;

1986-1991 Mass Spectrometry and Chromatography Specialist at Varian Associates, Palo Alto, USA. 1991-1992 principal administrator at the Italian Ministry of Agriculture

Since 1992 scientific officer at the Commission of the European Communities, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Ispra, Italy; 1992-1995 working as Head of the Organic Reference Laboratory, Environment Institute, JRC; 1995-2000 Head of the European Soil Bureau project, Space Applications Institute, MARS unit; 2001-2003 Head of the European Soil Bureau project, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Soil and Waste unit, JRC.

Since 2003 he is the head of the new JRC action “Soil Data and Information Systems” (SOIL), now it is renamed in SOIL. Numerous scientific publications. Main interests are: Soil Databases, GIS, soil protection, land degradation.

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About European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC)

In 2016, ESDAC resides under the new work package SOIL-NACA.

Securing SOIL as NAtural CApital:

Healthy soils are fundamental to life on Earth, and are the keystone of food security, the bioeconomy, water and nutrient regulation, climate change mitigation and biodiversity. A soil-centric framework is needed to support policies that address terrestrial ecosystem services and sustainable development. This work package collects, analyses and manages diverse data from the EU and beyond to assess soil functions (e.g. fertility, organic carbon cycles, water management, pollution control, preservation of heritage, pharmaceuticals) and pressures (e.g. erosion, contamination, intensive agriculture, soil sealing, climate change, etc.), and to develop indicators for scenario and trend analysis regarding soil security. The project supports the Commission’s commitment to the implementation of the EU Soil Thematic Strategy, the development of terrestrial Sustainable Development Goals, the European and Global Soil Partnerships, and EU commitments to land and soil in the EU acquis communautaire.

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