SciDev.Net has hosted its latest Readers’ Conference Call on the subject of future-proofing land use, with guest speakers shedding light on the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Isaac Dladla, an environmental management and climate change practitioner who heads the Eswatini Environment Authority (EEA) as acting executive director, joined Ermias Betemariam, a land health scientist working for The Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), for the online event.

It was hosted by Ruth Douglas, Deputy Editor responsible for managing the news content of SciDev.Net’s global edition.

Mr Dladla and Mr Betemariam both spoke before the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) of the UNNCD adopted 38 decisions, including on tenure, migration and gender, that highlight the role of land in addressing multiple crises.

The UNNCD COP15 drew nearly 7,000 participants, including heads of state, ministers, delegates from the UNCCD’s 196 parties and the European Union, as well as members of the private sector, civil society, women, youth leaders and media.

Commitments made

Among the decisions made was a US $2.5 billion Abidjan Legacy Programme that will help future-proof supply chains while tackling deforestation and climate change and regional initiatives launched in support of the Africa-led Great Green Wall.

Mr Dladla has extensive experience working at different levels of government and with regional and global bodies such as the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, UN Environment Programme, World Wildlife Fund and UN Development Programme.

Land degradation neutrality

He told the conference that there is a need to move toward minimising or reversing desertification – particularly land degradation that is largely driven by climate change and human activities – and a land degradation “neutral world.”

Mr Dladla added that a high-level segment of the UNCCD COP15, which was attended by more than 10 heads of state, shows the level of urgency in terms of the action that needs to be taken.

“Land degradation neutrality assumes that the state of our land resources is that we can maintain what we currently have. But the reality on the ground is that we cannot maintain that,” he said. “We really need to do a lot of restorative work that’s why we have this 2030 decade on land restoration which I think our heads of state were really impressing in terms of what needs to be done.”

Drought concerns


Three-quarters of the world’s population will be affected by drought by 2050 unless urgent action is taken – the UN says (Credit: Pixabay).

Mr Dladla also raised the issue of drought – another commitment made at the UNCCD COP15 which will see drought resilience boosted by the expansion of drylands, improving national policies and early warning, monitoring and assessment.

The UNCCD COP15 also resolved to establish an Intergovernmental Working Group on Drought for 2022-2024 to look into possible options, including global policy instruments and regional policy frameworks, to support a shift from reactive to proactive drought management.

Meanwhile Mr Betemariam said the issue of drought is not gaining enough media attention and that we need to address the cost of inaction now. Mr Betemariam has research experience in soil health, agroforestry, landscape restoration, spatial sciences, and decision analysis to understand land health constraints and targeting interventions to improve land and agricultural productivity.

He said our natural capital is not just for us but for generations to come and that everyone has a responsibility towards achieving land degradation neutrality.

Shared responsibility

Mr Betemariam said, “We need to be a little more forward thinking in scenario building and if we don’t do things a certain way the consequences will be like this.

“To live in harmony with nature, there could be many ways in which the problem can be manifested. For example, what about land degradation and COVID?

“I think there is a huge role for the media in playing a critical role in educating our citizens – not just the leaders – but everyone needs to know about where our ecological civilisations are heading to.

“We need to know if we are living in harmony with nature otherwise nature will kick us back.”

Reports issued

Reports issued during the UNCCD COP15 included ‘Drought in Numbers 2022’ – a compendium of drought-related facts and figures, including a 29% rise in droughts since 2000 and a projection that three-quarters of the world’s population will be affected by drought by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.

Ben Deighton, Managing Editor at SciDev.Net, said, “The monthly reader conference calls are an opportunity for the readers of SciDev.Net to engage in topical discussions on real issues facing key stakeholders in the scientific community – many of which our global team of correspondents report upon in our regular news coverage and analysis.

“The latest conference call on future-proofing land was timed ahead of the COP15 summit to allow the panellists to discuss the importance of combatting desertification to address a multitude of crises. This includes how land can be used sustainably to feed and meet other production needs of a global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050.”

Public awareness

As part of the UNCCD COP15, a new public awareness campaign was launched – Droughtland – to showcase solutions and rally global action on drought. The campaign will also be featured during UN Desertification and Drought Day (17 June), hosted this year by Spain.

Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said: “Meeting against the backdrop of multiple global challenges, including the worst-in-40-years drought in Eastern Africa, as well as food and economic crises fuelled by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts, countries have sent a united call about the importance of healthy and productive land for securing future prosperity for all.”

To register for future SciDev.Net readers’ conference calls see


Additional information

Main image: The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to highlight the role of land in addressing multiple crises (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth.)

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About the UNCCD

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the global vision and voice for land. We unite governments, scientists, policymakers, private sector and communities around a shared vision and global action to restore and manage the world’s land for the sustainability of humanity and the planet. Much more than an international treaty signed by 197 parties, UNCCD is a multilateral commitment to mitigating today’s impacts of land degradation and advancing tomorrow’s land stewardship in order to provide food, water, shelter and economic opportunity to all people in an equitable and inclusive manner.

Find out more here.