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Mechanism for achieving neutrality


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) conceptual framework applies a neutrality mechanism that is focused pro-actively on planning to achieve no net loss of land-based natural capital, rather than on regulating land degradation. The neutrality mechanism comprises the counterbalancing of anticipated losses in land-based natural capital with planned gains, to achieve neutrality (figure below).

The mechanism is designed to assist land use decision makers to maintain or do better than “no net loss” (as a minimum standard), so that losses due to land degradation can be counterbalanced by (at least) equivalent gains within the same land type. Counterbalancing losses with gains elsewhere within the same land type (known as the principle of counterbalancing “like for like”) ensures that there is no net loss in ecosystem services and that unique ecosystems can be conserved.


The scientific conceptual framework for LDN promotes a long-term approach to land management, in which land use decision-makers consider the likely effects of their decisions on land. Implementing LDN requires decision makers to anticipate where future degradation is likely to take place and to counterbalance these losses through planned interventions elsewhere.

Counterbalancing should therefore be linked to existing land use planning processes at the level where land use decisions are made to facilitate effective implementation, so that land use decision-makers can keep track of their decisions and how they contribute, positively or negatively, to the goal of neutrality at the landscape or national level (read more about land use planning in “Anticipating losses and planning gains”).

The neutrality mechanism balance sheet can become a practical tool for land use planning by enabling land use decision-makers to track land use decisions. The mechanism considers the direction of potential change anticipated at the time land use and management decisions are made in a binary way (i.e. decisions likely to lead to gains in land-based natural capital, and decisions likely to lead to losses in land-based natural capital). 

An example of the balance sheet shows how to calculate proposed future gains (through actions that avoid, reduce, or reverse degradation), anticipated future losses and the net balance. The example is for an administrative unit with multiple land types and helps to determine the anticipated (future) changes in land-based natural capital.

Principles related to the mechanism for neutrality (Module C)
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1.   Apply an integrated land use planning principle that embeds the neutrality mechanism in land use planning: The mechanism for neutrality should be based on a guiding framework for categorizing and accounting for land use decisions and the impacts of land use and management with respect to a “no net loss” target.
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2.   Counterbalance anticipated losses in land-based natural capital with gains over the same timeframe, to achieve neutrality: Achieving LDN may involve counterbalancing losses in land-based natural capital with planned gains elsewhere within the same land type.
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3.   Manage counterbalancing at the same scale as land use planning: Counterbalancing should be managed within national or subnational boundaries at the scale of the biophysical or administrative domains at which land use decisions are made, to facilitate effective implementation.
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4.   Counterbalance “like for like”: Counterbalancing gains and losses should follow, as far as possible, “like for like” criteria and thus will generally not occur between different types of ecosystem-based land types, except where there is a net gain in land-based natural capital from this exchange. Clear rules should be established ex ante for determining what types of “net gains” permit crossing land type boundaries, to ensure that there is no unintended shifting in the overall ecosystem composition of a country and no risk to endangered ecosystems.

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