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Anticipating losses and planning gains


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

Achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN) involves identifying and implementing a combination of appropriate interventions to avoid, reduce, or reverse land degradation in each land type, thereby maintaining (or enhancing) land-based natural capital. To achieve LDN, land use decision-makers need to be aware of how each of their land use and management decisions contributes, either positively or negatively, to the goal of neutrality. LDN planning involves projecting potential losses and planning for comparable or greater gains elsewhere, within the same land type, through counterbalancing. Projecting losses should take into consideration a range of factors that could lead to a loss of land-based natural capital, including:

  • the effects of active decisions on land use, such as granting permits for open-cut mining, land clearing, or urban expansion;
  •  the effects of passive decisions, such as the continuation of agricultural practices known to deplete soil carbon, and
  • natural drivers, such as the impacts of drought or wildfire.

Changes associated with natural drivers, although difficult to predict or manage, have an impact on land-based natural capital and therefore on the indicators used for LDN monitoring, so their anticipated effects need to be taken into account in order to achieve LDN.

The figure below shows a hypothetical example of how land use and management decisions affect the metrics used to monitor change in land-based natural capital, and how anticipated losses may be estimated and counterbalanced by planned gains. This example uses grassland grazed by livestock as the land type. Note that the changes are anticipated and that the losses and gains are projected; actual change is captured in future monitoring.

anticipating land use decisions

Integrated land use planning

Land use decision-makers need to be able to track their decisions and determine whether their interventions will be sufficient to counterbalance losses in land-based natural capital. Moreover, tracking decisions needs to be done at the point that land use decisions are made, so that land use decision-makers can regularly assess the cumulative impact of their decisions, and to reduce the risk of fragmented decision making across the administrative or biophysical domain.

Integrated land use planning is an appropriate mechanism to track land use decisions, as it seeks to balance the economic, social and cultural opportunities provided by land with the need to maintain and enhance ecosystem services provided by land-based natural capital. It also aims to blend or coordinate management strategies and implementation requirements across sectors, thereby making it a suitable mechanism to help decision makers keep track of their efforts to maintain (or exceed) LDN.

To make integrated land use planning operational, it is necessary for a country to link LDN planning as closely as possible with existing land administration processes and land information infrastructure. The scientific conceptual framework for LDN provides tiered options for leveraging integrated land use planning to track gains and losses, ranging from a parallel system (level 1) to a fully integrated system (level 3), with the option to link each system to LDN monitoring efforts.

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