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Source: Small Island Developing States

5 September 2019: A study by the International Resource Panel (IRP), hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), showcases the role of land restoration in achieving the SDGs and combating climate change. The report identifies land restoration and rehabilitation as one of three primary strategies for achieving SDG 15 (life on land), and particularly for meeting the land degradation neutrality (LDN) target under target 15.3.

The publication titled, ‘Land Restoration for Achieving the SDGs,’ was released during the 14th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which is taking place from 2-13 September 2019 in New Delhi, India.

The report explains that restoring degraded land is often more of an “inspirational or aspirational” concept. In many cases, reverting land to an absolute pristine state is not feasible due to the high diversity of species in nature, some of which become extinct during the period of land degradation. In other cases, “modification of one or more factors that determine the land’s long-term potential may limit restoration.” However, the study emphasizes, rehabilitation towards restoration aimed at supporting the ability of land to deliver on its ecological services in a sustainable way is both possible and highly beneficial: restoring 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2030, as aimed by the Bonn Challenge, could generate USD 9 trillion in ecosystem services while removing 13-26 gigatonnes (Gt) of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere.

The study finds that while land restoration and rehabilitation can have significant co-benefits for all the SDGs, the extent of restoration co-benefits and potential risks and trade-offs vary significantly among the SDGs and their respective targets.

The IRP uses a series of examples to illustrate co-benefits and trade-offs between the SDGs in the land restoration process. It recommends systemic analysis before investment is made, in order to avoid unintended consequences. For example, the publication notes, monoculture planting may help achieve a soils restoration objective under SDG 15 and, at the same time, provide benefits for the climate (SDG 13) through carbon sequestration, but it may fail to address biodiversity conservation (SDG 15).

The publication identifies four strategies that can maximize the identification and leveraging of cross-cutting opportunities involving land restoration or rehabilitation and multiple SDGs:

  • complete holistic and systematic analyses to identify potential synergies and tradeoffs;
  • apply a landscape approach to planning and implementation – especially for landscapes with variable land potential;
  • develop targeted solutions; and
  • invest in areas where persistence is likely.

The report recommends quantitative and qualitative modelling, including scenario development, at both local and global scales, to guide future investments and coordinate projects. Adopting an integrated landscape approach is highlighted as essential to increasing the total return on land restoration investments. [Publication: Land Restoration for Achieving the SDGs] [UNEP Publication Landing Page] [UNEP Press Release]

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