Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Target Setting Building Block Two – Assessing LDN

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Framework for monitoring and reporting on SDG Target 15.3

(Source: "Achieving land degradation neutrality at the global level," a publication produced by the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD)

An assessment of the current status, trends and drivers of land degradation is needed to set sound LDN targets, make decisions on potential interventions, forecast changes in land-based natural capital and track progress. The assessment uses a set of three indicators that reflect land-based natural capital and its associated ecosystem services. It also examines the local context and the direct and indirect drivers of land degradation in particular.

LDN indicators

The minimum set of indicators recommended for tracking progress towards LDN against a baseline are:

  • land cover
  • land productivity (metric: net primary productivity)
  • carbon stocks above and below ground (metric: soil organic carbon)

These indicators are part of a set of six progress indicators used by the UNCCD to track progress in the implementation of the Convention through national reporting. They have also been recommended as sub-indicators for the indicator 15.3.1, “Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area”, adopted to measure progress toward the SDG target 15.3 and are intended to reduce the reporting burden on country Parties. These indicators may be enhanced and complemented by other relevant national (or sub-national) indicators, in order to obtain an even more accurate picture of the current status and progress made.

The indicators monitor changes in different yet highly relevant ways. Land cover provides a first indication of a reduction or increase in vegetation, habitat fragmentation and land conversion. Land productivity offers an indication of ecosystem health and sharpens the focus on ecosystem services. Soil organic carbon denotes overall soil quality.

When does land degradation occur?

A positive change in one of the indicators cannot compensate for a negative change in another – therefore, if one of the indicators shows a negative change, degradation is considered to occur, following the “one out, all out” rule. Thus, land degradation occurs if:

  • negative land cover change occurs, and/or
  • net primary productivity shows a significant negative trend, and/or
  • soil organic carbon shows a significant negative trend

Changes in the indicators must be interpreted in the context of local conditions. Interpreting such changes is up to the national and local authorities and institutions that coordinate the LDN assessment.

How to develop a comprehensive assessment of LDN?

Setting the LDN baseline

The baseline is the initial numerical value of the three indicators used as proxies to reflect the land-based natural capital. Since the aim is to achieve LDN with no net loss, the minimum level of ambition of a LDN target should equal the baseline for a given year.

Assessing land degradation trends

Setting the baseline is a stock-taking exercise of the current land-based natural capital - it does not evaluate the level of land degradation. However, since many countries have already conducted assessments of the status and trends of land degradation and implemented land evaluation to assess the potential of the land, these results can be utilized in the LDN target-setting process. In the absence of such assessments, participating countries may wish to perform a retrospective trend analysis spanning a 10-15 year period, using the same indicators.

Areas affected by negative trends should be further scrutinized to pinpoint land degradation “hot spots” and evaluate whether these should be priority areas for LDN action. Available information and technologies, such as archive maps, satellite images, aerial photographs and field visits can all support hot spot analysis.

Identifying drivers of land degradation

Once the trends of land degradation have been identified, quantified and localized, an analysis of the drivers of degradation in the areas affected should be performed to better understand the dynamics of land degradation at the (sub-) national level. There are two types of drivers: proximate drivers that are directly linked to local land-use systems and underlying drivers that can be local, national or global and reflect demographic, economic and socio-political circumstances that impact local land-use systems indirectly.

Analyzing the legal and institutional framework of land management 

This analysis is of utmost importance for identifying gaps, inconsistencies, weaknesses and opportunities in order to create or strengthen the national regulatory environment for LDN. In this context, the UNCCD National Action Programmes (NAPs) can provide a starting point, as in principle they provide background on the technical, legal, policy and financing aspects of sustainable land management.

The LDN assessment provides the evidence base needed to set LDN targets, make decisions about potential interventions and prioritize efforts in areas where degradation is happening.

What are the expected outputs/outcomes?

  • LDN baseline is established and mapped to provide the LDN target setting reference framework
  • LDN legal and institutional environment is analyzed to identify key opportunities and gaps to achieving LDN
  • Trends and drivers of land degradation are mapped to identify priority areas for LDN action

What support does the LDN TSP provide to participating countries?

  • Access to default estimates from global data sources on the LDN baseline and trends
  • Guidance on the use of sound methodologies and approaches for the assessment of the LDN baseline and trends at country level
  • Support in the implementation of targeted analysis of the LDN legal and institutional environment

This approach enables national authorities to use methods consistent with their capacities, resources and data availability and facilitates comparability at global level.

Read more:

Learn more about the LDN Target-setting Building Blocks:

Building Block 1

Building Block 3

Building Block 4