Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
The Convention’s 195 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought.
As the dynamics of land, climate and biodiversity are intimately connected, the UNCCD collaborates closely with the other two Rio Conventions; the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Desertification and land degradation is not only a global issue, it is also a regional concern - some 15 % of land in the EU is subject to erosion whilst about 45% of European soils are considered to have low organic matter content, particularly in southern Europe and are therefore at risk of further degradation. Currently, twelve EU Member States have declared that they are affected parties under the Convention, with the requirement to submit national reports on actions taken to combat desertification.
The European Commission funds a large number of projects directly and indirectly targeting the issue of desertification, land degradation and sustainable land management, often with the joint aim of addressing biodiversity loss and climate adaptation, as well as funding research projects on monitoring and assessing soil quality and drought in the EU (with the Soil Atlas for Europe, for example) as well as globally.
In order to increase awareness in particular of the costs of land degradation, the Commission is supporting a study on the economics of land degradation (ELD) – the aim of which is also to support policy-making regarding sustainable land management at various levels. The study is due to be finalised in 2014.