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New ISO standard to combat land degradation

Our consumption of the earth’s natural reserves has doubled in the last 30 years and a third of the planet’s land is now severely degraded. There is an urgent need to find solutions for land management policy, planning and practices. 

A new ISO standard will help land managers at global and national scales put in place best practices to combat land degradation. The recently published ISO 14055-1:2017, Environmental management – Guidelines for establishing good practices for combatting land degradation and desertification – Part 1: Good practices framework, provides guidelines for developing good practices to combat land degradation and desertification in arid and non-arid regions.

The standard refers to actions or interventions undertaken with the purpose of preventing or minimizing land degradation or, where land is already degraded, aiding its recovery to improve productivity and ecosystem health.

Because managing our land-based capital impacts directly on human livelihood and health, the standard covers the various topics that must be considered when establishing good practices, such as the respect for human rights, forest management and agricultural practices, climate conditions and industrial activities, among others.

ISO 14055-1 will serve as a useful tool for land managers, land users, technical experts, and private and public organizations, as well as for policy makers involved in the management of land resources for ecological, productivity, economic or social purposes. It advocates a fundamental shift in behaviour towards a more sustainable use of land and is intended to complement and support the activities of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

ISO 14055-1 and its complement, the future ISO/TR 14055-2, which provides regional applications of the principles in Part 1, will help to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 for the protection, restoration and sustainable management of land-based ecosystems. In doing so, we can hope to reach a “land-degradation-neutral world” by the year 2030.


ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies (ISO member bodies). The work of preparing International Standards is normally carried out through ISO technical committees. Each member body interested in a subject for which a technical committee has been established has the right to be represented on that committee. International organizations, governmental and non-governmental, in liaison with ISO, also take part in the work. ISO collaborates closely with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on all matters of electrotechnical standardization.

The procedures used to develop this document and those intended for its further maintenance are described in the ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1. In particular the different approval criteria needed for the different types of ISO documents should be noted. This document was drafted in accordance with the editorial rules of the ISO/IEC Directives, Part 2 (see

Attention is drawn to the possibility that some of the elements of this document may be the subject of patent rights. ISO shall not be held responsible for identifying any or all such patent rights. Details of any patent rights identified during the development of the document will be in the Introduction and/or on the ISO list of patent declarations received (see

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This document was prepared by Technical Committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management.

A list of all parts in the ISO 14055 series can be found on the ISO website.

In the development of this document, ISO Guide 82 has been taken into account in addressing sustainability issues.


Land degradation and desertification are fundamental and persistent problems that have long been recognized. They are caused by climate variability (e.g. drought and floods), other natural factors and unsustainable human activities, such as over-cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, over-extraction of water, impacts of construction activities and unsustainable irrigation practices. These activities can lead to loss of vegetation and biodiversity, declining water supply and water quality, soil erosion and loss of soil fertility and structure. The consequences in the medium to long term are loss of agricultural and economic productivity, loss of soil quality and function and loss of ecosystem services, including biodiversity loss, and adverse social impacts.

Land degradation is estimated to affect up to 20 % of the world’s drylands, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) [46], and 25 % of cropland, pasture, forests and woodlands globally, according to FAO (2011)[32]]. In addition, one third of the earth’s population, i.e. 2 billion people, are potential victims of the increasing effects of desertification (UNEP, 2007[22]). Land degradation is both a significant driver of climate change through lack of favourable conditions for plants capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and change in surface characteristics affecting solar reflectance (albedo) and is predicted to be exacerbated by climate change. Degradation and desertification greatly reduce ecosystem resilience to climate change.

Land degradation affects land productivity, and impacts directly on human livelihood and health and, in extreme cases, causes loss of life. Societies suffer from decreased access to adequate supplies of clean water, deterioration in air quality, threats to food security and declining economic status. These effects can be felt at all scales from the local to the global and by all people but especially the poor and the vulnerable.

Recognizing the significance of land degradation leading to desertification in dryland areas, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)[18] was developed to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in dryland regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The UNCCD recognizes desertification as a social and economic issue as much as an environmental concern. Therefore, it has a major focus on fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development in areas at risk of desertification. Parties to the UNCCD agreed to implement national, regional and sub-regional action programmes, and to seek to address causes of land degradation, such as unsustainable land management. This document is intended to complement and support the activities of the UNCCD by providing guidance to land managers on the establishment of good management practices that, when implemented, will reduce the risk of land degradation and desertification and assist in rehabilitation of lands affected by degradation. Land managers expected to benefit from the standard include land users, technical experts, private and public organizations, and policy makers involved in the management of land resources for ecological, productivity, economic or social objectives.

The purpose of this document is to provide guidelines for developing good practices to combat land degradation and desertification in arid and non-arid regions.

NOTE ISO/TR 14055-2 will provide regional case studies illustrating application the framework of this document to a range of land degradation cases.

This document refers to actions or interventions undertaken with the purpose of preventing or minimising degradation of land or, where land is already degraded, aiding the recovery of degraded land to improve productivity and ecosystem health.

This document seeks to provide a flexible approach to the implementation of good practices to combat land degradation and desertification by allowing for different types and scales of activities so that the guidance in this document can be applied to all activities and be relevant to public and private use. It aims to be applicable to the range of geographical, climatic, cultural and other circumstances. Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between the guidelines for developing good practices presented under this document and environmental management systems and good practice programmes as they apply to land management.

Combatting land degradation is critical to achieving sustainable development and hence good practices programmes need to seek to attain a balance between environmental, social and economic goals. These goals are interdependent and need to be mutually reinforcing. For example, the capacity of individual land managers and communities to implement good practices for combatting land degradation can be limited by immediate challenges of poverty and hunger. Conversely, combatting land degradation will contribute to greater socio-economic as well as environmental resilience.

Provision of guidance on establishing good practices for managing land degradation and desertification benefits both land users and the wider community and can assist in increasing their resilience to climate change. It can also complement government policies to combat land degradation and desertification and contribute to objectives of parties to the UNCCD.