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The implications of environmental trading mechanisms on a future Zero Net Land Degradation protocol (JAE, Volume 112, Part A, January 2015, Pages 25-32)

Despite many important success stories around the planet, there is general disappointment at the overall impact of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (hereinafter: UNCCD) during its first 20 years, with soil degradation still a challenge for land managers throughout much of the world's drylands. Calls for a new protocol under the UNCCD that will ensure “Zero Net Land Degradation” (ZNLD) have gained momentum since the tacit endorsement of the concept at the 2012 Rio + 20 summit. There is great conceptual appeal to a framework that implicitly allows for development by balancing associated soil fertility loss with commensurate gains resulting from restoration activities. Trading programs which seek to reach “zero net” degradation of other natural resources have been in place for many years now internationally and offer an important basis for assessing the practical and theoretical problems that are likely to arise under a ZNLD framework.

This article summarizes the relevant experiences garnered in “offsetting” regulatory schemes in the areas of wetland preservation, biodiversity, forestry, greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, real estate zoning, and conventional air pollution control. While many of these initiatives take place in environments with completely different climatic conditions, they offer important lessons for ZNLD advocates.

Pitfalls in offset programs are identified in the areas of: reliability of tradesclear quantifiable units of measureequivalence given land heterogeneityand delayed benefits. The article contains a series of recommendations for land degradation offsets based on this diverse international experience. Proven implementation strategies should inform any future ZNLD policies as part of national and regional regulatory programs to combat desertification and arid land soil degradation.


- Financial mechanisms can ensure land restoration and monitoring of progress.

- Clear parameters for assessment should be set prior to approval of offsets.

-Once offsets are approved rehabilitation should start to show feasibility.

-Flexibility in trading programs should not include irreplaceable damage.

- Uncertainty about land restoration should lead to increased mitigation ratio.