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Forest_Photo by Luis Del Río Camacho on Unsplash

Reflections on UNCCD COP 14

Thursday, 7. November 2019


Travelling to my hometown of New Delhi is always fun, but even more so when I get to see my family and attend one of the most relevant UN events of our time. Land restoration and combating desertification has been close to my heart ever since I worked in the drought affected areas of central India 12 years ago.


Attending last September’s conference of the parties to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP) was a special event for me, but also for Initiatives of Change International (IofC). Since 2013, UNCCD has partnered with IofC in organizing the Caux Dialogues on Land and Security (CDLS), which explore the links between trustbuilding  and environmental regeneration. But this was the first time that IofC has been an official observer at the COP. 

A major highlight was the Forest Peace Initiative; a proposal by South Korea to use forests for ‘growing peace’ on the borders of neighbouring countries, which aligns with IofC’s impetus to ‘build bridges across the world’s divides’. It was officially launched at the conference by Kim Jae-Hyun, Korea’s Forest Minister, who described it as ‘a global initiative where all people living in border areas in many countries can participate’. He pointed out that 60 per cent of global conflict is due to lack of natural resource management, but most global peace treaties do not cover this issue.

Rishabh Khanna at UNCCD COP 14

This initiative will first be implemented in Peru and Ecuador, but other countries, including Chad and the Central African Republic, are showing interest. The World Bank committed US$8 billion to the initiative, in addition to South Korea’s investment of US$34 million. The World Bank stated that this initiative would be complementary to the great green wall being planted across Africa with the aim of regenerating local eco systems.

The presence of India’s Prime Minister Modi at the high-level segment of UNCCD COP 14 raised the profile of land restoration. He emphasized that India would lead the way by restoring 26 million hectares of land. According to some sources, almost 26 percent of India’s arable land – close to 41 million hectares – is degraded. Modi’s target will only deal with 63 per cent of this land but will bring India closer to its target of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). He emphasized that behaviour change was the way ahead.

The conference adopted The Delhi Declaration, with 197 countries agreeing that land degradation is a major economic, social and environmental problem. They welcomed the adoption of voluntary LDN targets which include restoration of degraded land by 2030. ‘It’s a powerful document. Parties have finally woken up to the challenge of droughts which are set to become more frequent and more intense in coming years,’ said UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw.

The Delhi Declaration's significance for the fight against land degradation is like the Paris Agreement’s significance for combating climate change. It creates a legally binding framework for countries to jointly combat desertification, with 35 binding policies which could lead to land degradation neutrality, green jobs, climate resilience and peace.