The term “land” is used to describe the terrestrial bio-productive system that comprises soil, vegetation, other biota, and the ecological and hydrological processes that operate within the system.
Desertification is a type of land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Land degradation is the reduction or loss, in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rainfed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest and woodlands resulting from land uses or from a process or combination of processes, including processes arising from human activities and habitation patterns, such as: soil erosion caused by wind and/or water; deterioration of the physical, chemical and biological or economic properties of soil; and long-term loss of natural vegetation.
Land degradation is a major global environmental issue of this century because of its adverse impact on agronomic productivity, the environment, and its effect on food security and the quality of life. Land degradation is happening at an alarming pace and is affecting regions inhabited by over one-third of the global population. This phenomenon contributes to a dramatic decline in the productivity of croplands and rangelands worldwide, thereby, threatening food security and environmental quality.
Desertification and the Institutional Context to Combat Desertification
Considering the significance and the severity of desertification, it was clear that international actions needed to be taken before it was too late. At the 1992 Earth Summit, the international community adopted Agenda 21, an unprecedented global plan of action for sustainable development. The three Rio Conventions— Convention on Biodiversity (UNCBD), Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)—derive directly from the 1992 Earth Summit. Each convention represents a way of contributing to the sustainable development goals of Agenda 21. The three conventions are intrinsically linked, operating in the same ecosystems and addressing interdependent issues.
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
The UNCCD aims to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought. This shall be done through effective actions at all levels, supported by international co-operation and partnership arrangements. These actions shall be taken within the framework of an integrated approach which is consistent with Agenda 21, with a view to contributing to the achievements of sustainable development in affected areas. In particular, the 2018-2030 UNCCD Strategy will contribute to:
- achieving the objectives of the Convention and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, in particular regarding Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 and target 15.3: “ by 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil ,including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world” and other interrelated SDGs, within the scope of the Convention;
- improving the living conditions of affected populations; and
- enhancing ecosystems services.
The UNCCD benefits from universal membership and is increasingly recognized as an instrument which can make a lasting contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and poverty reduction globally.
Malta National Action Programme
Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) requires long-term integrated strategies that focus simultaneously on the improved productivity of land and the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources. The UNCCD can play a central role in addressing DLDD issues, in part, through National action programmes (NAP).
NAP are the key instruments to implement the UNCCD. The NAPs are developed through a participatory approach involving various stakeholders, including relevant governmental offices, scientific institutions and local communities. They spell out the practical steps and measures to be taken to combat desertification in specific ecosystems.
The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is preparing a “National Action Plan on Desertification and Land Degradation in the Maltese Islands”, in line with the UNCCD Article 10, as adopted by the Government of Malta in terms of Article 51 of the Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549).
The purpose of NAP is to identify the factors contributing to desertification and practical measures necessary to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought. The NAP shall specify the respective roles of government, local communities and land users and the resources available and needed. They shall, inter alia: (a)
- incorporate long-term strategies to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought,
- emphasize implementation and be integrated with national policies for sustainable development;
- give particular attention to the implementation of preventive measures for lands that are not yet degraded or which are only slightly degraded;
- require regular review of, and progress reports on, their implementation.
The Malta NAP is currently divided into three themes that broadly relate to national land use: urban/sub-urban, natural/semi-nature and agriculture. Each theme is further subdivided into three sub-sections:
- Targets: are quantitative and qualitative targets that aim to realise the strategic objectives of the UNCCD and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, in particular regarding Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 and target 15.3,
- Methods/measures: describe actions to achieve the targets, and
- Indicators: monitor the extent to which methods/measures achieve the target.