The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 include SDG 15.3 as a target on Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). In October 2015, LDN was officially recognised by the UNCCD by a decision of the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP12), which stated that “striving to achieve SDG target 15.3 is a strong vehicle for driving implementation of the UNCCD, within the scope of the convention” and endorsed the definition of LDN (decision 3/COP.12, UNCCD, 2015a). In the same decision, the COP invited country Parties to “formulate voluntary targets to achieve LDN in accordance with their specific national circumstances and development priorities” and to integrate such targets in their National Action Programme (NAP), which is a key instrument for implementing the Convention within “affected” member countries. COP12 also requested the Secretariat and Convention’s bodies to “develop guidance for formulating national LDN targets and initiatives”; particularly, Parties directed the UNCCD Science-Policy Interface (SPI) to “Provide scientific guidance to the operationalization of the voluntary LDN target”. In 2017, the SPI, which includes dedicated experts from the biophysical sciences, the social sciences and environmental law, developed a scientific conceptual framework for LDN which provides scientifically-based guidance for planning, implementing and monitoring land degradation neutrality. This framework was endorsed by the Parties endorsed this framework in COP13 (decision 18/COP.13).
The UNCCD defines LDN as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems” (decision 3/COP.12, UNCCD, 2015a). The goal is maintaining or enhancing the land resource base – in other words, the stocks of natural capital associated with land resources and the ecosystem services that flow from them. The definition also emphasises the importance of ecosystem services in achieving sustainability of food production.
The objectives of LDN are:
- Maintain or improve the sustainable delivery of ecosystem services
- Maintain or improve productivity to enhance food security
- Increase resilience of the land and populations dependent it
- Seek synergies with other social, economic and environmental objectives
- Reinforce responsible and inclusive governance of the land
LDN contributes not only to the achievement of national LDN goals, it has positive synergies with other national commitments. Additionally, LDN provides a useful framework for action in multiple policy areas and is considered an accelerator for the attainment of multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as ending poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), gender equality (SDG 5), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) and climate action (SDG 13).