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Implementing land degradation neutrality

How will land degradation neutrality (LDN) be implemented?

(source: "Land in Balance", a science-policy brief prepared by the UNCCD Science-Policy Interface (SPI))

Planning for LDN

The concept of neutrality involves counterbalancing anticipated losses with measures to achieve equivalent gains. The scale of implementation of LDN, at which neutrality is to be achieved, is the individual land type, within the landscape – for example, a catchment.

To facilitate counterbalancing, LDN introduces a new proactive approach in which management of land degradation is coupled with existing land use planning. LDN promotes a long term approach in which land use planners consider the likely outcomes of land use and land management decisions, so that anticipated degradation can be counterbalanced by interventions to reverse the impacts of land degradation elsewhere, in order to achieve LDN.

The estimate of anticipated losses should include not only the effects of planning decisions (e.g. granting permits for open-cut mining) but also effects of passive decisions (e.g. continuation of agricultural practices known to deplete soil carbon) and natural drivers (e.g. impacts of drought, wildfire).

Counterbalancing is managed within the same land type. A land type is distinguished by vegetation class and land potential.

Efforts to reverse land degradation should be planned with the aim to achieve ‘win-win’ situations whereby gains in natural capital contribute to improved and more sustainable livelihoods.

The LDN conceptual framework encourages application of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security to protect the rights of local land users.

Designing and implementing interventions

A logical framework for achieving LDN is presented in the figure above. It illustrates the impact pathway by connecting inputs, activities, outputs and interventions with the desired outcome (LDN). Users are encouraged to adapt this figure to suit their own context.

In order to plan effective interventions for any specific site, several preliminary assessments should be conducted:

  1. Land degradation assessment: the current state and trends of land degradation;
  2. Land potential assessment: the inherent, long-term potential of the land to sustainably generate ecosystem services;
  3. Resilience assessment: the capacity of the land use system to continue to deliver the same ecosystem services in face of disturbance; its adaptive capacity, its likely trajectory under anticipated stressors and shocks, such as climate change, and proximity to known thresholds;
  4. Socio-economic assessment: the social and economic impacts of alternative land use options and proposed interventions, with particular attention to gender considerations and vulnerable rural communities.
  5. The LDN response hierarchy guides decision-makers in planning measures to achieve LDN. The response hierarchy of Avoid> Reduce > Reverse land degradation is based on the recognition that “prevention is better than cure” i.e. avoiding or reducing further land degradation, such as through sustainable land management practices, will maximize long-term benefits and is more cost-effective than efforts to reverse past degradation.
  6. Informed by the assessment of land potential, priority for intervention is placed first on lands where prevention or avoidance of land degradation is possible, followed by land where mitigation through improved land management practices is suited, and lastly on reversing degradation through restoration, rehabilitation or reclamation on land that has lost productivity.
  7. The implementation of LDN will be managed at the landscape scale. However, implementing LDN requires multi-stakeholder engagement and planning across scales and sectors, supported by national-scale coordination that should work with and incorporate any existing local and regional governance structures.

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