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Statements Special Procedures

UN experts call for rights-based approach to combat desertification, land degradation and drought

World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, 17 June 2023

16 June 2023

GENEVA (16 June 2023) – The world must do more to combat desertification and land degradation, which have enormous human rights consequences, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd, said in a policy brief presented today. Ahead of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, a group of UN experts issued the following statement:

“The world’s drylands, which are home to three billion people in 169 States and cover almost half of the Earth’s land, are under severe threat from drought, land degradation and desertification. Drylands provide food, fuel, building materials and numerous ecosystem services including water filtration and retention and carbon sequestration.

While desertification is not a new phenomenon, due to climate change and specific human actions, including intensive agricultural practices, deforestation and poor water and land management, it is happening at approximately 30 times the historical rate.

Between 2015 and 2019, the world lost at least 100 million hectares of healthy and productive land every year, affecting the right to water, right to food, cultural rights, the rights of the child and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Even more daunting is an estimate that 95 percent of the planet’s land area could be degraded by 2050 unless preventive and remedial steps are implemented, beginning immediately. This is a silent, invisible crisis that is destabilising communities on a global scale. The people most impacted by desertification and land degradation are often the poorest peoples in the poorest countries in the world, deepening the global inequality gap.

We now understand that global environmental crises are also human rights crises. And while the climate and biodiversity crises have received massive media, public, academic and political attention, desertification and its human rights consequences have been largely overlooked and underfinanced. The low profile and lack of financial support reflect the systemic marginalisation of people of colour and low-income States whose people are embroiled in extreme poverty.

Developing and implementing systemic, integrated and human rights-based approaches is imperative.

Rights-based approaches impose an obligation to act, are a catalyst for accelerated action, and without a doubt are the most effective, efficient, and equitable way forward. A rights-based approach emphasises States’ obligation to address the underlying causes of desertification and land degradation, which are the same actions driving the other elements of the planetary environmental crisis.”

*David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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