Desertification, land degradation and drought
Deserts are among the "fragile ecosystems" addressed by Agenda 21, and "combating desertification and drought" is the subject of Chapter 12. Desertification includes land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Desertification affects as much as one-sixth of the world's population, seventy percent of all drylands, and one-quarter of the total land area of the world. It results in widespread poverty as well as in the degradation of billion hectares of rangeland and cropland.

In addition to addressing desertification and drought in Agenda 21, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) also called upon the United Nations General Assembly to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INCD) to prepare, by June 1994, an international convention to combat desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.

In December 1992, the General Assembly agreed (resolution 47/188). The Convention was adopted in Paris on 17 June 1994 and opened for signature there on 14-15 October 1994. It entered into force on 26 December 1996. The year 2006 was declared by the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution (A/RES/58/211) The International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

Combating desertification and drought has been discussed by the Commission on Sustainable Development in several sessions. In the framework of the Commission's current multi-year work programme, the third cycle, CSD 16-17 in 2008 and 2009 will focus on desertification and drought along with the interrelated issues of Land, Agriculture, Rural development and Africa.
Integrated planning and management of land resources is the subject of chapter 10 of Agenda 21, which deals with the cross-sectoral aspects of decision-making for the sustainable use and development of natural resources, including the soils, minerals, water and biota that land comprises. This broad integrative view of land resources, which are essential for life-support systems and the productive capacity of the environment, is the basis of Agenda 21's and the Commission on Sustainable Development's consideration of land issues.

Expanding human requirements and economic activities are placing ever increasing pressures on land resources, creating competition and conflicts and resulting in suboptimal use of resources. By examining all uses of land in an integrated manner, it makes it possible to minimize conflicts, to make the most efficient trade-offs and to link social and economic development with environmental protection and enhancement, thus helping to achieve the objectives of sustainable development. (Agenda 21, para 10.1) The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the task manager for chapter 10 of Agenda 21.

CSD 16/17 Topics

Land is included as one of the thematic areas along with agriculture, rural development, drought, desertification and Africa in the third implementation cycle CSD-16/CSD-17.

Past CSD-Cycle Topics

The sectoral cluster of land, desertification, forests and biodiversity, as well as mountains (chapters 10-13 and 15 of Agenda 21) were considered by CSD-3 in 1995 and again at the five-year review in 1997. In accordance with its multi-year programme of work, CSD-8 in 2000 reviewed integrated planning and management of land resources as its sectoral theme. Many of the issues addressed are also linked to the focus at CSD-8 on agriculture as an economic sector, and the documentation prepared for the session for agriculture is also relevant to the land item.

Holistic Approach

In its decision 8/3 on integrated planning and management of land resources, the Commission on Sustainable Development noted the importance of addressing sustainable development through a holistic approach, such as ecosystem management, in order to meet the priority challenges of desertification and drought, sustainable mountain development, prevention and mitigation of land degradation, coastal zones, deforestation, climate change, rural and urban land use, urban growth and conservation of biological diversity. Such an approach should take into consideration the livelihood opportunities of people living in poverty in rural areas.

Future Work

The Commission identified six priorities for future work, including:

  1. prevention and/or mitigation of land degradation;
  2. access to land and security of tenure;
  3. critical sectors and issues (such as biodiversity, drylands, rehabilitation of mining areas, wetlands and coastal zones, coral reefs, natural disasters, and rural-urban and land management interactions);
  4. access to information and stakeholder participation;
  5. international cooperation, including that for capacity-building, information-sharing, and technology transfer; and
  6. minerals, metals and rehabilitation of land degraded by mining in the context of sustainable development.

Governments were urged to support the implementation of a number of important international agreements, including

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