News / 10 May 2022

Lobbying for local and sustainable practices during the UNCCD summit

From May 9 to 20, the 15th Conference of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (UNCCD COP15) will take place in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire. Governments, policymakers, civil society organisations and scientists from countries all over the world will discuss the problems around drought, land degradation and desertification that are increasing. Colleagues Nathalie van Haren and Stefan Schüller will be there, as will a large number of representatives of organisations with which Both ENDS has been working together for decades. But what is the purpose of the meeting, what is discussed and why is it important to be present? We asked Nathalie and Stefan.

Nathalie: "The UNCCD is a UN treaty on combating desertification, land degradation and drought. The convention was signed in 1994 by all members, or member states, of the UN, which is why all those countries are 'parties' to the convention. Once every two years the members meet to discuss the struggle against desertification, land degradation and drought, and how members can help each other. This is called the 'Conference of the Parties', abbreviated COP."

You are present at the COP. What is the main reason for that?

Stefan: "Both ENDS has followed the international negotiations within the UNCCD since the first COP, in 1997. Together with local civil society organisations that work with communities in dry and semi-dry areas, we want to ensure that better and more inclusive policies are implemented. Policies that stimulates sustainable, agroecological agriculture and pastoralism and that are based on what women farmers, farmers, nomads and herders in arid areas need in order to use the land sustainably. Many of them have been doing this for a long time, but national and international policy does not take these practices into account and financial flows often still go to large-scale projects. These are generally not well attuned to the local context and therefore not very effective."

Nathalie: "That's why at this 15th UNCCD COP we will use examples from our partners, among other things, to show that the sustainable methods they use really work well for soil health, the environment and the livelihood of local communities. They not only prevent land degradation, but also restore land that has already been degraded. We hope to convince policy makers and donors to create more financial and policy space for such practices.

The UNCCD-COP is sometimes called the little sister of the UNFCCC-COP. Is this a deserved nickname?

Nathalie: "I don't think it is exactly deserved, but it is true that the UNCCD has a bit of an image problem. Many people think that the treaty is mainly about desert areas, which is only partly true. The treaty is about the process of human action turning fertile land into barren land and the effects of drought on the health of soils and local communities. These are processes that affect the whole world, including the inhabitants of temperate ecosystems such as the Netherlands. Just look at the droughts in the Netherlands in 2018, 2019, 2020 and how dry it is in the Netherlands at this moment. That will only happen more often.

Are the agreements made in the UNCCD binding?

Stefan: The UNCCD is a UN treaty, which means that national governments commit themselves to convert decisions taken within that treaty into national policy. However, it remains 'soft law': if a country does not fulfill that promise, it will not be thrown out of the convention. You can regard the UNCCD as an opportunity to achieve good international cooperation and better national policy."

What is your main message at this particular COP?

Stefan: "Since desertification, land degradation and drought are most felt by marginalised groups such as women, small-scale farmers/farmers, nomads and herders and local communities, their interests must come first. If policies are made to combat desertification and restore degraded land, they must fit in with many different local contexts. What is needed? For example, to start with, farming communities need to be sure that they can use their land for years to come. That is often not the case now, because land use rights are not at all secured in many countries.

Nathalie: If you can be evicted from your land at any moment, that's not really a motivation to grow trees and farm sustainably. Then you mainly look at the short term. If, on the other hand, you are sure that you can use that land for years or maybe even decades, you'll make sure that your land is still fertile in the future and it is also worth planting trees for shade, fruit and soil fertility. Land use rights are therefore extremely important, which is why it is crucial that local communities are seen and heard in policy processes.

Are civil society organisations listened to at the COP?

Nathalie: "Civil society organisations have observer status within the UNCCD, just like international organisations such as the FAO and the Global Environmental Facility. International organisations and civil society organisations are sometimes given the opportunity to issue a statement. We have organised ourselves within the UNCCD, there is an NGO meeting every morning before the negotiations, and so we jointly prepare a statement for every item on the agenda."

Stefan: "Two 'Open Dialogue Sessions' are also always planned in the official COP programme, in which NGOs often show the work they do with local communities on sustainable land use and propose how policymakers and funds can support these initiatives and practices with better policies and financing. But whether they really listen, time will tell!"

When will you go home satisfied?

Stefan: "I will go home satisfied if we, as an NGO group, can continue the conversation with policy makers and funds about the importance of sustainable initiatives initiated by women, indigenous groups and local communities to combat desertification and land degradation. We must keep planting and feeding those seeds!

Nathalie: "And I will go home absolutely delighted when the value of agroecology and community-based initiatives is explicitly on the agenda during the next UNCCD-COP, number 16, which will take place in two years' time. This would mean that at a high level it is recognised that these kinds of initiatives can make an important contribution to the prevention and reduction of desertification and land degradation in the short and long term and therefore deserve full support, both politically and financially."



  • Drought: how countries can work together and exchange knowledge on how to deal better with drought, how to be better prepared and how to respond to drought
  • Land rights and land use planning: how countries can work together and exchange knowledge on how to get land use planning in order
  • Gender Action Plan: how countries can cooperate and exchange knowledge on how to better involve women in the implementation of the convention in national policy and financing
  • Migration: how countries can work together and exchange knowledge to create better livability in rural areas, especially for young people, so that one of the drivers of international migration is reduced
  • Finance: how to pay for improved policy action on desertification, land degradation and drought and supporting sustainable land use.


Meer informatie:

Both ENDS is also co-organiser of a couple of side events during the COP, take a look in the agenda


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