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The land degradation neutrality response hierarchy


Land in Balance, a science-policy brief prepared by the UNCCD Science-Policy Interface

Scientific Conceptual Framework for Land Degradation Neutrality, a report of the UNCCD Science-Policy Interface

The land degradation neutrality (LDN) response hierarchy of Avoid > Reduce > Reverse land degradation (figure below) is an overarching principle for LDN implementation, which guides decision-makers in planning interventions to achieve LDN. The hierarchy articulates which interventions should be prioritised based on their potential to maximise the conservation of land-based natural capital, recognising that avoiding or reducing land degradation are generally more cost-effective than efforts to reverse past degradation.

LDN response hierarchy

LDN interventions are applied to an individual land unit (a spatial unit used in LDN planning and monitoring), but at the landscape level applying the response hierarchy involves a combination of protective measures and implementation of sustainable land management to avoid or reduce degradation, along with localised restoration and/or rehabilitation interventions to reverse land degradation. Reversing degradation also serves to counterbalance projected (anticipated) losses from new degradation in other land units within the same land type. See examples of land use and land management interventions applicable to each level of the response hierarchy, with a focus on agricultural land.

The response hierarchy and land use planning

The response hierarchy focuses on guiding integrated land use planning at the landscape level as part of the LDN implementation process, and on identifying and selecting the most appropriate combination of interventions, in order to achieve LDN. Preliminary assessments, which are part of LDN planning and include assessments on land potential, land degradation, resilience and relevant social and economic factors, should be used to inform land use decision-makers on the most suitable intervention to take in each land unit.

Moreover, by identifying land for LDN interventions at the planning stage, anticipated losses can be simultaneously identified and counterbalanced by measures designed to deliver gains in land-based natural capital elsewhere, through restoration or rehabilitation.

Land use decision-makers should engage with stakeholders, such as land users, civil society organisations, and small- and medium-sized enterprises, to identify these interventions and to encourage and facilitate land management and land use decisions, especially where changes in land use or management practices are required.

Principles related to achieving neutrality (Module D)
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1.   Balance economic, social and environmental sustainability: LDN seeks to maintain or enhance the quality of all ecosystem services, optimizing the trade-offs between environmental, economic and social outcomes. Implementing LDN contributes to sustainable development by integrating economic and social development and environmental sustainability within the biophysical limits of natural capital, and seeking to manage the land for ecosystem services while avoiding burden shifting to other regions or future generations.
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2.   Base land use decisions on multi-variable assessments: Land use decisions should be informed by appropriate assessments (land potential, land condition, resilience, social, cultural and economic factors, including consideration of gender), validated at the local level before initiating interventions to ensure evidence-based decisions and reduce the potential risk of land appropriation.
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3.   Apply the response hierarchy: In devising interventions and planning for LDN, the response hierarchy of Avoid > Reduce > Reverse land degradation should be applied, in which avoid and reduce have priority over reversing past degradation, so that the optimal combination of actions can be identified and pursued with the aim of achieving no net loss across the landscape.
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4.   Apply a participatory process: Planning and implementation of LDN involves well-designed participatory processes that include stakeholders, especially land users, in designing, implementing and monitoring interventions to achieve LDN. Processes should consider local, traditional and scientific knowledge, applying a mechanism such as multi-stakeholder platforms to ensure these inputs are included in the decision-making process. The process should be sensitive to gender, and imbalances in power and information access.
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5.   Apply good governance: Good governance underpins LDN and thus planning and implementation should involve:
a) removing and reversing policy drivers that lead to poor land management
b) applying the principles and standards of the VGGTs to ensure tenure rights and security in the pursuit of LDN (FAO, 2012b)
c) taking account of availability of resources (human and economic) for implementing good practices to combat land degradation and desertification;
d) making provision for monitoring and reporting on LDN implementation;
e) developing a mechanism for the coordination of integrated land use and management planning across scales and sectors to ensure stakeholder input to national and international decision-making and reporting;
f) developing a mechanism for the timely review of implementation outcomes and recommendations for improvement; and
g) ensuring upward and downward accountability and transparency.

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