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The principles for land degradation neutrality implementation


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

© CIAT CreativeCommons / Neil Palmer

The land degradation neutrality (LDN) principles are a set of 19 principles that govern the LDN implementation process. They are designed to ensure that LDN achieves its positive outcomes, while avoiding or minimising the unintended and negative outcomes. They can be considered the foundations of the scientific conceptual framework for LDN and the necessary minimum requirements for successful implementation and attainment of LDN.

In decision 18/COP.13, the Conference of the Parties called upon Parties pursuing LDN to consider the guidance provided by the scientific conceptual framework for land degradation neutrality and observe the LDN principles, taking into account national circumstances.

Read the principles in full

Each of the principles is connected to a module of the scientific conceptual framework for LDN, which presents the LDN concept and provides guidance on the application of the principles. While there is flexibility in the application of many principles, they are nevertheless essential elements that must be adhered to in order to achieve LDN.

Principles underpinning the vision of LDN (Module A)
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1.   Maintain or enhance land-based natural capital: LDN is achieved when the quantity and quality of land-based natural capital (World Bank, 2012) is stable or increasing, despite the impacts of global environmental change.
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2.   Protect human rights and enhance human well-being: Actions taken in pursuit of the LDN target should not compromise the rights of land users (especially small-scale farmers and indigenous populations) to derive economic benefit and support livelihoods from their activities on the land, and should not diminish the provisioning capacity and cultural value of the land.
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3.   Respect national sovereignty: Governments set national targets guided by the global level of ambition while taking into account national circumstances. Governments decide the level of aspiration and how LDN targets are incorporated in national planning processes, policies and strategies.
Principles related to the frame of reference (Module B)
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4.   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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5.   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.
Principles related to the mechanism for neutrality (Module C)
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6.   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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7.   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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8.   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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9.   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.
Principles related to achieving neutrality (Module D)
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10.   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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11.   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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12.   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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13.   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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14.   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.
Principles related to monitoring (Module E)
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15.   Make use of three land-based indicators and associated metrics: land cover (assessed as land cover change), land productivity (assessed as NPP) and carbon stocks (assessed as SOC), as minimum set of globally agreed indicators/metrics, which were adopted by the UNCCD for reporting and as a means to understanding the status of degradation (UNCCD, 2013b).
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16.   The integration of results of the three global indicators should be based on a “one-out, all-out” approach where if any of the three indicators/metrics shows significant negative change, it is considered a loss (and conversely, if at least one indicator/metric shows a significant positive change and none shows a significant negative change it is considered a gain).
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 17.   Make use of additional national and sub-national indicators, both quantitative and qualitative data and information, to aid interpretation and to fill gaps for the ecosystem services not fully covered by the minimum global set.
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18.   Apply in-situ validation and local knowledge obtained through local multi-stakeholder platforms to interpret monitoring data according to local context and objectives, within agreed guidelines.
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19.   Monitoring should be viewed as a vehicle for learning. Monitoring provides: opportunities for capacity building; the basis for testing hypotheses that underpin the counterbalancing decisions and the interventions implemented, the LDN concept, and this conceptual framework; and knowledge to inform adaptive management.

Why have principles?

The principles underpin the ultimate goal of LDN, which is to achieve no net loss of healthy and productive land for the benefit of human well-being and to protect land and the ecosystem services that land provides. The principles ensure that countries pursuing LDN take a broad view of the wider societal and long-term impacts of LDN interventions.

The principles provide appropriate measures that guard against doing unintentional harm to communities and ecosystems in the pursuit of LDN targets, by ensuring that countries take into account the environmental, economic, and social objectives of the LDN process.

For this reason, many of the principles focus on social and environmental minimum requirements. For example, principle 2 focuses on protecting the rights of vulnerable and marginalised land users and enhancing human well-being, which highlights the strong focus the scientific conceptual framework for LDN places on social standards.

Are there other LDN principles?

The 19 most important LDN principles are provided above, and there are other principles that complement them, which can all be found in the "Scientific Conceptual Framework for Land Degradation Neutrality" report. There is also a set of principles related to good governance within the LDN context, which are integral to the long-term sustainability of LDN achievements. Governments may also choose to establish nationally-specific principles to complement the LDN principles.

An important objective of the scientific conceptual framework for LDN is the responsible governance of land, and the scientific conceptual framework has been designed to support pursuit of LDN in a manner that benefits all current land users in an equitable and responsible way. The principles and standards of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGTs) (FAO, 2012b) are central to how LDN can be pursued with less risk of unintended consequences associated with land tenure insecurity, land appropriation and land conflict, and how the rights of local land users can be protected.

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