As the world struggles to maintain or restore peace, fight climate change and its ever increasing impacts, and offer a development perspective for over one and a half billion extremely poor people, it is largely neglecting one of the keys to solving all three problems. Restoring degraded land can boost food production and development in most of the poorest places of the planet, se- quester enormous amounts of carbon, and defuse ever-increasing competition for key resources by making available more water and productive soil.
That is why the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security offers an international, interdisciplinary and independent platform dedicated to exploring and promoting the potential of large scale land degradation, from practical action on the ground to its place in international negotiations and conventions.
This year’s Dialogue recognised an array of geographical hotspots where a combination of clima- te change and land degradation caused by unsustainable farming techniques is the main driver of instability and insecurity. Migration resulting from such environmental stressors was identified as a key issue – both as part of temporary solutions and as a potential driver of destabilisation. Eighty per cent of the world’s conflicts already take place in the especially vulnerable drylands. However, the experience of many participants – and the inspiring case studies they presented – showed that the cycle of degradation can be stopped and reversed. Scaling up such solutions would both have tremendous impact on local populations and do much to address the global challenge of climate change.
Restoring the earth’s degraded land could sequester between ten and thirty per cent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, within a very short period. It can thus buy precious time needed for the decarbonisation of global economy. And the same techniques also offer a low-tech, low-cost adaptation strategy that can be flexibly implemented in different countries, minimizing future di- sasters by building resilience and reducing the impacts of the droughts, floods and other climate related shocks that are already unavoidable.
At the same time rural development and food security can be improved through sustainably in- tensifying agricultural production. Up to 2 billion hectares of degraded land, including 480 million hectares of abandoned agricultural land, can made productive. providing prospects to the rural poor and helping to prevent conflicts over land and water. Better management of the land can also enhance biodiversity.
Land restoration involves low-tech, labour-intensive interventions. A range of simple techniques that can revitalise soils even in severely water stressed regions, without the need for extensive artificial irrigation, were discussed and presented at the Dialogue, which heard of remarkable cases where land was returned to its full potential. Such knowledge and other inputs are freely available but diverse stakeholders need to co-operate – both on the local and the international level – to enable large scale rehabilitation and restoration. The challenges of rehabilitating and restoring land are social and societal rather than technical: trust-building and good resource governance being the core need for successful action. The Dialogue especially focuses on these areas.
Achieving land degradation neutrality – as proposed in the first draft of the SDG document – would make a tre- mendous contribution to food, energy and water security and reduce tension and security concerns in important hotspots. From both a mitigation and adaptation perspective land needs to figure more prominently in the climate negotiations.
The remainder of 2014 and the year 2015 (already designated as the Year of Soils) will be crucial for driving the land management agenda. Participants agreed that the central and vital role of land needs to be emphasized in the series of high-level political meetings during that period – including the UNSG summit in September 2014, OSCE – Swiss Presidency in Prague in September, NATO, UNCCD-COP, UNISDR, IUCN’s World Parks Congress in Sydney in November 2014, CBD-COP 12 in October 2014 in the Rep. of Korea, UNFCCC COP21 in Paris. Participants agreed to take the findings of the conference – detailed in the full chair’s summary available at www.landlivespeace.org/chairssummary – to these events to press for a more prominent role of land restoration.