Cop14 in India: Challenging desertification and land degradation

Dr VK Bahuguna

(the writer is a retired civil servant)
India hosed the Conference of Parties (CoP) 14 under the aegis of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) during 3rd September to 14th September. The UNCCD is one of the three environmental conventions running after Rio summit of 1992, (the other two are The United Framework Convention Climate Change and Convention on Biological Diversity) was established in 1994 as a legally binding international agreement within the parameters of United Nation and connects the Environment and Development with sustainable land management. The conventions 
deal with most vulnerable ecosystems in arid, semi-arid and dry lands areas.The basic aim of the convention is to work for improving the livelihoods of the people in these ecosystems through restoration of soil and lands and combat draught conditions. The developed countries are supposed to transfer the technologies to the developing countries for sustainable land development.The UNCCD had adopted a strategic framework for 2018 to 2030 which primarily focuses interalia improve the condition of affected ecosystems, combat desertification/land degradation, promote sustainable land management and contribute to land degradation neutrality; to mitigate, adapt to, and manage the effects of drought in order to enhance resilience of vulnerable populations and ecosystems; mobilize resources for implementation of the convention and improve the living conditions of the people living in dry land ecosystems. By far this is the most important convention and the success of two other conventions objectives depend upon the success of UNCCD. The secretariat of the convention had taken lot of programmes to achieve its mandate and some excellent work has already been achieved by India though almost one third of country’s landmass is degraded and prone to desertification.

The convention was attended by 197 parties at the Greater Noida international convention centre. The President ship of convention was with China after it hosted CoP 13 at Ordos during September 2017 was handed over to Indian Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Shri Prakash Javadekar during CoP 14. Now India will steer the mandate of the convention for the next two years. There are four issues which were discussed during CoP 14 viz. land and draught; land and human security; land and climate change and land and sustainable development goals.

The Ministerial segment of the convention was addressed by the Prime Minister Modi on 9th September 2019. He had outlined the success achieved by India in implementation of the objectives of the convention in checking desertification and land degradation as well as helping the livelihoods of the people living in dry areas. He asserted that India is looking forward to making an effective contribution at global level it takes over the Chairmanship for next two years. He called for concerted attempts as two third of countries are affected by desertification and are in the grip of severe water crisis. He exhorted the delegates to create a Global Water Action Agenda and offered Indian expertise to other countries in land degradation and raised the target of its land restoration from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares by 2030. He said that India is on course to achieve its Paris climate change targets.  He also announced setting up of a Centre of Excellence at the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education to facilitate scientific and technological collaboration between South- South cooperation and with those who wish to access knowledge and training of man power so that land degradation is addressed effectively. 

Let us discus how important is this conclave to India and world in the midst of climate change and desertification threats. Around 30 percent of the world's population live in the dry areas, which cover more than 40 percent of the world's land surface. Countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan are prone to repeated draught and in fact whole 40 % of  world is now facing draught like conditions due to climatic vagaries. In India around 20% ( 63.8 million ha) of the land is categorised as waste lands and most of this is in dry areas. The recent statistics shows that 42 % of the Indian land mass faces draughts where more than 600 million people live. The CoP 14 is therefore, very vital for the entire world and its recommendations need to be implemented in all seriousness. The people and the governance institution must focus on physical structure of land and quality of soil; improve the availability of water; control landslides, floods and movement of soil and conserve the biodiversity and use of land for sustainable development of the people living in these areas.

The 196 countries and European Union on 14th September 2019 adopted the "New-Delhi Declaration" which was jointly signed by the Mr. Prakash Javadekar President of the CoP 14 for next two years and Mr Ibrahim Thaiw, Executive Secretary. The participating countries agreed that land degradation is a major economic, social and environmental problem, and welcomed strengthening of the adoption of voluntary "land degradation neutrality" targets that include restoration of degraded land by 2030.

The Cop 14 was very well organized by India and now the country should focus on achieving these  goals. The President of the CoP Mr Javadekar must gear up diplomatic channels to ensure creation of fund and technology for tackling the threat by all countries. As for India, an action plan must be prepared to deal with deforestation, water conservation and land degradation for forest and non forestlands. The degraded forests below 40% crown density have increased from 24 million ha in 1985 to 30 million ha in 2017 and regeneration in natural forests need to be backed up. The recent proposal of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to bring private investments in forest areas of less than 10% crown density (minus grassland/ mudflat/ mangrove ecosystems) should be started on pilot basis after taking the local people into confidence and if it succeeds it will give a big fillip to forest conservation and enhancement of land productivity. The land vested with tribal under Forest Right Act should also be taken up for investment for productive use and livelihoods. 

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