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Neutrality and the LDN baseline


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

Neutrality is the aspirational goal of land degradation neutrality (LDN), meaning that there is no net loss of what LDN is intended to maintain, which is the land-based natural capital. No net loss in this context means that land-based natural capital is maintained or enhanced between the start and end of LDN implementation. To assess whether this goal has been met, a reference (baseline) must be established, against which performance can be assessed.

To achieve no net loss of land-based natural capital (and thus neutrality), the minimum target of neutrality is equal to the baseline.

Neutrality is monitored through the change in values of three indicators, which are used as suitable proxies for the ecosystem services flowing from land-based natural capital (read more about the indicators in “Monitoring LDN status”). The initial values of these indicators are calculated (as average values over a set period) before LDN implementation starts, and are considered the baseline for LDN. The indicators are then recalculated during and at the end of LDN implementation to determine whether or not land-based natural capital has remained stable, increased, or decreased over time, for a specific area of land, in comparison to the baseline values.

LDN baseline graph

The figure above illustrates this, whereby the baseline values of the indicators are calculated prior to the start of LDN implementation (“Baseline setting period”). The baseline values determine the status of land-based natural capital at the start of LDN implementation (“t0”), which is to be maintained to achieve neutrality. At the end of LDN implementation (“t1”), the values are re-calculated as part of LDN monitoring. If the values equal the baseline values, the goal of neutrality has been achieved and land-based natural capital has been maintained. In a similar way, it is possible to determine if LDN has been exceeded (net increase in land-based natural capital) or not achieved (net loss of land-based natural capital), relative to the baseline.

Although neutrality is the goal of LDN, there is flexibility in implementing LDN and countries can choose to set their LDN target above no net loss, i.e., to improve the land-based natural capital above the baseline, and raise the level of ambition.

Principles related to the frame of reference (Module B)
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1.   The LDN target equals (is the same as) the baseline: The baseline (the land-based natural capital as measured by a set of globally agreed LDN indicators at the time of implementation of the LDN conceptual framework) becomes the target to be achieved, in order to maintain neutrality.
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2.   Neutrality is usually the minimum objective: countries may elect to set a more ambitious target, that is, to improve the land-based natural capital above the baseline, to increase the amount of healthy and productive land. In rare circumstances a country may set (and justify) its LDN target acknowledging that losses may exceed gains, if they forecast that some portion of future land degradation associated with past decisions/ realities is not currently possible to counterbalance.

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