India To Host UN Conference on Desertification Next Month

India committed on Tuesday to restore five million hectares of degraded land in the next 10 years as the country prepares to host thousands of participants from across the world for a United Nations conference on combating desertification in New Delhi next month.

India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters that the 14th Conference of Parties (COP14) of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, which also addresses the related issue of land degradation, will be attended by representatives of 196 governments, including 94 ministers of environment. Some 5,000 participants are expected to be at the conference in the nation’s capital.

“India will assume the presidency during this (COP) and will be playing a big role in combating desertification. For the next two years … we will move the world in the right direction by taking cooperation of all countries,” Javadekar said. Desertification is “a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry land region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife,” according to the Down To Earth organization.

The ministry says that nearly 30 percent of India’s land has degraded and is losing top soil, which poses a serious problem to the environment and agriculture and has continued unabated in the last few years. In India, 96.4 million hectares are, or are becoming, deserts. The heaviest amount of desertificaiton has occurred in eight states—Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh—where around 40 to 70 per cent of land has eroded.

The list of attendees for the conference being held from Sept. 2 until the 13th includes members of nonprofit organizations, scientists and business leaders apart from government delegates.

The high-level meetings are set to start Sept. 9, with round-table discussions taking place regarding strategies to reverse the desertification of land and track the progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015.

During the conference, participants would also review the global progress in the fight against desertification and discuss a road map for the next decade.

The UNCCD was adopted in Paris in 1994 for maintaining and restoring land and soil productivity and mitigating drought effects across the world. Since 2001, the signatory states meet every two years in COPs such as the one in New Delhi.

According to U.N. estimates, around 24 billion tons of soil is lost every year and the degradation of dry land reduces the GDP of developing countries by eight percent, annually.