Land matters: Ignoring land and soil issues at our peril
At a well-attended event held at the University of Bern on 15 April 2014, Monique Barbut, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), delivered a keynote address on the importance of land as a natural resource.
Co-organized by the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the event featured several prominent speakers from Swiss science and policy communities, who highlighted Switzerland’s contributions to solving problems of desertification and land degradation.
Ms Barbut took the occasion to announce the UNCCD’s official accreditation of the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) database – hosted by CDE – as the global platform for documenting and sharing best practices of sustainable land management (SLM). The UNCCD’s official recognition gives WOCAT a mandate to support the 194 signatory countries in recording their own SLM best practices and using the SLM knowledge of stakeholders worldwide – from land users to decision-makers – to improve local land management.
Ms Barbut noted how “on degraded land, [people’s] dignity, freedom, and choice are rapidly eroded”. She went on to describe the “tyranny” of climate change faced by over 1 billion people globally whose only tangible asset is land, and asked the audience, rhetorically: “At what point are we going to take a stand?” The answer – articulated by Ms Barbut and echoed by others – is now.
Speakers also indicated that while climate change worsens desertification and land degradation, the root of the problem involves improper land use and management, overexploitation of resources, and low resilience among communities. And it is precisely here that scaling up existing SLM practices provides the key, enabling transformation of vicious circles into virtuous circles that benefit us all.