Desertification is a type of land degradation primarily caused by climate variations and overexploitation of soil through human activities (anthropogenic factor). It does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts, but to excessive exploitation and inadequate land use in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas that cover one-third of the Earth.
The land degradation issue caused by desertification was formalized at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio in 1992. On this occasion, it was decided to devote a special Convention to the issue of combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought, which was adopted on June 17, 1994 in Paris. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking the environment and development with sustainable land management. So far, the Convention has been ratified by 196 countries working together to improve living conditions for people in arid areas, to maintain and restore productivity of soil and mitigate the effects of drought. More than 140 countries are affected by the process of land degradation. The UNCCD is particularly committed to the bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of the local people in reducing land degradation. The UNCCD Secretariat facilitates cooperation between developed and developing countries, especially in terms of knowledge transfer and technology transfer for sustainable land management.
Under the UNCCD, there are five regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the Northern Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), and all of them together participate in deciding on the implementation of the Convention. The text of the Convention contains five annexes, relating to each of these world regions.
Regional Annexes to the Convention:
- Annex I: Africa
- Annex II: Asia
- Annex III: Latin America and the Caribbean
- Annex IV: Northern Mediterranean
- Annex V: Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)
Annex V: Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)
Regional Annex V entered into force in 2001 by the Decision of Conference of the Parties (COP) 5, titled “The Regional implementation Annex of the Convention for the region of Eastern and Central Europe”. Today 19 countries have ratified the Convention. The degree of soil degradation in the CEE region varies from country to country, but data show that soil degradation is serious in the region with a tendency to deteriorate. As a result, the 15 country Parties declared their status as affected country Parties. Twelve Central and Eastern European countries supported the Regional Action Program (RAP CEE) at the COP12 regional meeting in 2015. RAP CEE identifies the following priority areas for regional cooperation:
- Strengthening regional policies
- Increasing knowledge of desertification, degradation and drought in the CEE region
- Achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN)
- Capacity building
- Organic agriculture
- Designing and implementing joint Sustainable Land Management (SLM) projects
The main causes of soil degradation in the CEE region are:
- Development of transitional economies
- Agricultural processes that endanger the soil
- Inappropriate irrigation and excessive exploitation of water resources resulting in chemical pollution and salinization
By adopting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, CEE countries have the task to translate all the goals into the national level. Goal 15. refers to the land: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss. Most CCE countries have given priority to SDG 15.3.: By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world. CEE countries will build and strengthen national capacities to set up the LDN target and monitor its achievement.
As the dynamics of land, climate and biodiversity are intimately connected, the UNCCD collaborates closely with the other two Rio Conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in order to address these complex challenges with an integrated approach.
The United Nations General Assembly set June 17 the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought when the public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification is promoted.