An international alliance aims to engage with corporations to prevent the environmentally and commercially damaging impacts of land degradation
The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Turkish Ministry of Forests and Water Affairs (MoFWA) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have formed an alliance to encourage public-private partnerships to combat land degradation in the months leading up to a key UNCCD conference.
The alliance is anticipating the UNCCD’s 12th annual Conference of the Parties (COP12), scheduled to take place in Ankara, Turkey, 12-23 October. The COP is the convention's main decision-making body, and its members plan to discuss and make decisions on the convention's implementation.
Land degradation refers to deterioration in the quality of land, its topsoil, vegetation or water resources, usually caused by excessive or inappropriate use of soil. As a result, less land can be cultivated and soil erosion is more prevalent.
UNCCD parties have adopted a goal of global Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and are working on developing an action plan for governments. LDN occurs when the area of productive land remains stable or increases. During the UNCCD COP12, Parties of the Convention will consider setting a target of reaching global LDN by 2030.
The WBCSD plans to establish a dialogue with companies that voluntarily commit to reversing land degradation. It aims to work with them, give them advice on their strategies and identify opportunities for them to introduce sustainable land management business practices and join large scale land rehabilitation efforts, according to Simone Quatrini, coordinator of private sector investments in land, in the UNCCD’s Global Mechanism body.
“The risks and opportunities of land degradation are often underestimated by companies,” says the WBCSD. “There is a strong business case for action, as land is an essential asset for many companies.”
Land-degradation-induced changes can have a direct impact on the cost structure and profitability of a company, notes Violaine Berger, director of the WBCSD’s Ecosystems and Landscape Management Cluster. Poor land conditions can mean fewer and lower quality raw materials, impacting price levels; less water and greater risks of landslides and floods; and local health problems and poverty, forcing workers to move on. Too much unusable land can eliminate jobs and lead to social unrest. “The risks are largely matters of stability,” adds Louise Baker, coordinator of external relations and policy for the UNCCD Secretariat.
“As competition for access to productive assets heats up, supply chains and even entire markets are likely to become more volatile. Grain, plant and animal commodities will become increasingly scarce and costly. Land and ecosystem degradation means many areas are more vulnerable to natural disasters."
The WBCSD wants to educate businesses about preventing further land degradation by implementing sustainable land management practices, Berger says. Degraded land can be used for certain cultivated crops, such as sugar cane, soy and palm oil. Ways to limit degradation include growing trees and crops at the same time, so the trees provide some shade, planting a tree each time one is cut down and being more selective about the trees that are harvested.
“We are targeting all [business] sectors, as land is an important asset for all companies, not only for the companies from the agriculture and forestry sector, but also for the ones that have indirect links to land through their value/supply chains, such as insurance, retail, mining and oil and gas companies,” says Berger.
Companies often have difficulty understanding how land degradation can affect their business, she notes. “This is simply not on their radar screen, as they do not make the connection with water scarcity, increased vulnerability to extreme weather-related events, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, or migration,” Berger says.
“However, the severity of the issue is evident when we say that it can take up to 1,000 years to produce 1cm of soils, while restoring land that has been degraded can take up to 100 years or even more depending on the state of degradation. This is why land must be viewed as a precious asset. It is critical that all businesses, independent of their sector of activity, take great care of land.”
Among the sessions scheduled for the conference are a business forum, which will bring together all the private sector stakeholders; a public fair where business can exhibit their solutions to policy makers and the general public; and an interactive dialogue between business leaders and government ministers.desertification Turkey land degradation LDN