The scientific conceptual framework for land degradation neutrality: overview

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

The UNCCD defines land degradation neutrality (LDN) as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems”. Within the UNCCD this definition is intended to apply to affected areas as defined in the text of the Convention. The LDN conceptual framework has been developed to guide countries in operationalising this definition.

LDN is a new initiative intended to halt the ongoing loss of healthy land through land degradation. Unlike past approaches, LDN creates a target for land degradation management, promoting a dual-pronged approach of measures to avoid or reduce degradation of land, combined with measures to reverse past degradation.

The objective is that losses are balanced by gains, in order to achieve a position of no net loss of healthy and productive land.

The objectives of LDN are to:

  1. Maintain or improve ecosystem services;
  2. Maintain or improve productivity, in order to enhance food security;
  3. Increase resilience of the land and populations dependent on the land;
  4. Seek synergies with other environmental objectives;
  5. Reinforce responsible governance of land tenure.

Conceptual Framework for Land Degradation Neutrality

The figure below illustrates the interrelationships among the major elements of the scientific conceptual framework for LDN. The target at the top expresses the vision of LDN, emphasizing the link between human prosperity and the natural capital of land – the stock of natural resources that provides flows of valuable goods and services. The balance scale in the centre illustrates the mechanism for achieving neutrality: ensuring that future land degradation (losses) are counterbalanced through planned positive actions elsewhere (gains) within the same land type (same ecosystem and land potential). The fulcrum of the scale depicts the hierarchy of responses: avoiding degradation is the highest priority, followed by reducing degradation and finally reversing past degradation. The arrow at the bottom of the diagram illustrates that neutrality is assessed by monitoring the LDN indicators relative to a fixed baseline. The arrow also shows that neutrality needs to be maintained over time, through land use planning that anticipates losses and plans gains, and applies adaptive learning (where tracking impacts permits mid-course adjustments to help ensure neutrality is maintained in the future).

LDN pyramid

The UNCCD Science-Policy Interface has recently released a publication on the Scientific Conceptual Framework for LDN, which has been developed to create a bridge between the vision and the implementation of LDN in practice by defining LDN in operational terms:

LDNCF  Scientific Conceptual Framework for Land Degradation Neutrality








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