Land & Water

Restoring degraded lands - SDG 15

The international community is developing indicators for several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to ensure the sustainability of land and water resources. These include: 

  • SDG2 aims at ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture: Indicator 2.4.1 Proportion of agricultural area under productive and sustainable agricultural practices ().
  • SDG15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss: Indicator 15.3.1: Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area 
  • (SDG6 to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all: Indicators 6.4.1 and 6.4.2: Change in water use efficiency and level of water stress.

Identifying the impacts of land degradation on provisioning ecosystem services (i.e. productive, regulating/supporting and socio-cultural services) is a crucial aspect of a strategic approach to food security. Land degradation is gaining international attention: at the Rio+20 Summit, for example, world leaders committed to achieving a land degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development. 

FAO’s contribution to land degradation neutrality (LDN) is based on its comparative advantage and expertise in policy development on sustainable land management and addressing land degradation, including governance and land rights, and on its role as the foremost global custodian of agricultural information for the Organization’s country members.

Indicator 15.3.1 (“Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area”) is derived by summing all land areas subject to change whose condition is considered negative (i.e. degraded) by national authorities while using “good practice guidance” in the measurement and evaluation of changes to the following three subindicators: 1) land cover and land-cover change; 2) land productivity; and 3) carbon stocks above and below ground. Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) adopted these sub-indicators for the voluntary implementation of target 15.3 at the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD held in Turkey in 2015.

Information on the three subindicators already exists in many countries and in several international institutions, including FAO. FAO is focusing its efforts on deploying methodological tools and strengthening the capacity of countries to collect data, mainly through FAOSTAT and to use FAO products to analyse such data, including Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands, Global Agro-Ecological Zones, Global Land Cover-Share, Collect Earth, and the statistical resources of the Global Soil Partnership (which FAO hosts). 

FAO’s approach can help increase the coherence and harmonization of country reporting to United Nations conventions and standards (for example the UNCCD, the UN Framework Convention on Climate change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting). FAO already collects land-related data in various countries. 

Developing operational approaches to reporting on soil organic carbon as part of subindicator 15.3.1 is a priority for the SDGs. Soils hold the largest terrestrial carbon pool and play a crucial role in the global carbon balance by regulating dynamic biochemical processes and the exchange of greenhouse gases with the atmosphere. Land use and land-use change (which includes agriculture) is the second-largest source of carbon emissions (after the burning of fossil fuels), most of which arise directly from soils. Greenhouse gas emissions from soils are governed largely by macro and micro climatic factors and are strongly affected by land use, vegetation cover and soil management. Much of FAO’s work on soils is conducted through the Global Soil Partnership.