The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. The SDG that directly relates to desertification, land degradation and drought is SDG15 – Life on Land. The SDG aims 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 targets. The rationale behind SDG15 is that from 2000 to 2015, more than one fifth of the Earth’s total land area was degraded, largely due to human-induced processes, such as desertification, cropland expansion and urbanization. During the same period, there were significant productivity declines in land cover, with grasslands incurring some of the greatest losses.
SDG15 consists of a number of targets, target 15.3 being the one directly related to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) aim to combat desertification. Target 15.3 of Goal 15 “Life on Land” has been championed by the UNCCD and it’s country Parties and has become a strong vehicle to drive UNCCD implementation. Target 15.3 contains the objective to strive towards Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030. This has opened a “window of opportunity” for many countries to strengthen policies for sustainable use of land and soils and It urges to “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.” It also contributes to other SDGs, including those related to climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration, food and water security, disaster risk reduction, and poverty reduction. The 2030 Agenda and its target 15.3 place the UNCCD firmly in the context of the hugely important climate action agenda, providing a roadmap for the next 15 years.
A number of indicators have been developed so as to monitor the progress made towards achieving the SDG. For SDG 15.3, the indicator agreed upon is “Proportion of land that is degraded over total land”. It is defined as the amount of land area that is degraded. The measurement unit for indicator 15.3.1 is the spatial extent (hectares or km2) expressed as the proportion (percentage) of land that is degraded over total land area (IAEG-SDGs 2016). The minimum set of indicators recommended (but not compulsory) for tracking progress towards LDN against a baseline is:
- Land cover and land cover change has multiple applications for evaluating progress towards various SDG targets and gives a first indication of land degradation” and a first indication of a reduction or increase in vegetation, habitat fragmentation and land conversion (Global Mechanism of the UNCCD 2016a).
- Land productivity (metric: net primary productivity) points to long-term changes in the health and productive capacity of the land.
- Carbon stocks above and below ground (metric: soil organic carbon). In particular, soil organic carbon denotes overall soil quality (Global Mechanism of the UNCCD 2016a). On seasonal to decadal timescales, carbon stocks of natural and managed systems may be explained largely by changes in plant biomass (“fast variable”) but, on longer time scales, soil organic carbon stocks (“slow variable”) become a more relevant indicator of the functioning of the system, its adaptive capacity and resilience to perturbations (e.g., floods, drought), and thus its capacity to provide ecosystem services in a sustainable manner over the long term.
The Maltese National Action Programme to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) adopts the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, in particular regarding Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 and target 15.3.