The 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP10, http://www.unccd.int) convened on 10–21 October 2011 in Changwon, Republic of Korea. The UNCCD is one of the three Rio Conventions, with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, considered together as the framework for cooperation on international sustainable development. The UNCCD aims to reverse and prevent desertification and land degradation, and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas—primarily dry and sub-humid regions—to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability worldwide. More than 6,000 participants attended the COP and its associated events, including a Rio Conventions Pavilion.
Delegates remarked it was a smooth and productive COP, and that the UNCCD has made some notable strides since adopting its 10-year strategy in 2007 (http://www.unccd.int/cop/officialdocs/cop8/pdf/16add1eng.pdf). Where the Convention now shines among its peers is in evidence-based management, including attempts to streamline national reporting based on common metrics. With this strategy UNCCD has developed a comprehensive framework to monitor and assess the impact and performance of its work, enabling policy- and decision-makers to better understand how desertification, land degradation and drought affect ecosystem function and livelihoods, and how desertification is affected by national implementation efforts.
Two indicators will become mandatory for national reporting from 2012: rural poverty and land cover/land productivity. These are considered the minimum impact indicators required for reporting by affected countries but form part of a set of 11 ecosystem and human well-being indicators trialled by countries and demonstrated to be feasible for reporting (http://impact-pilot.unccd.int). Information on impacts is complemented by 18 performance indicators on responses such as financing, science, education and capacity. These were trialled by all Parties (193 countries and the European Union) in 2010 within the Performance Review and Assessment of Implementation System project (http://www.unccd.int/prais). COP10 established an ad hoc working group to continue developing and refining the indicators.
The COP expressed clear intentions to continue strengthening its scientific engagement. Although conscious of the unfavourable economic climate numerous Parties voiced support to establish a new intergovernmental scientific panel on desertification, land degradation and drought, or land and soils more broadly. The G-77/China, the African Group, Central and Eastern European States, and other numerous developing and emerging economies were behind the calls. The United States and EU, however, shared the view that the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) could integrate these issues. It is clear there is still scope for better definition of the UNCCD's scientific needs and the gaps in existing mechanisms. An ad hoc working group on scientific advice was established.
The Korean hosts announced the Changwon Initiative, which could lead to an agreement on a global target towards zero net land degradation. In the manner of the 2010 biodiversity target it would aim to generate commitment for a ‘land-degradation neutral world’ by 2030 (http://www.unccd.int/cop/officialdocs/cop10/pdf/inf8eng.pdf). The UNCCD COP10 also saw progress towards a long-called-for initiative on land economics. The Economics of Land Degradation initiative kicked off with major support from Germany. This study intends to do for land degradation what The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity has for biodiversity and ecosystem services (and the Stern Report for climate change)—support better understanding of the cost of inaction versus the cost of action on the issue.
Despite ongoing challenges to the Convention, the focus on scientific engagement, the progress made in evidence-based management and the extensive efforts to move beyond process and into implementation are all positive signs. The challenge now is for the UNCCD to deliver on this promise.