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New Delhi: Amid rising challenges of climate change, the 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP14) kicked off in New Delhi on Monday, where representatives from as many as 197 countries will take up proposals to address land degradation, desertification and droughts, across 12 days.

The biennial event held as part of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is being hosted by India, one of the first countries to commit to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of achieving ‘land degradation neutrality’ (LDN).

This involves India restoring nearly 5 million hectares of degraded land in the next 10 years, which would mean putting into place an innovative land use and management approach that prioritizes the sustainable use of land.

“More than 700 million people may have to migrate by 2050, if land degradation continues at the same rate", said Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of UNCCD in his opening remarks, highlighting that over 70% of the world’s land area has been converted from its natural state to produce food, fibre and energy and one in four hectares of this land is being lost to degradation.

However, he added, the situation is improving as more than 70 countries now have robust national drought plans, compared to just three countries only four years ago.

The stakes are high for India, as nearly 29% of land in the country is degraded. This is critical as India’s population is projected to reach 1.7 billion by 2050.

The agenda is to reverse land degradation and fix the critical gaps in land management. The deliberations would lead to a final set of commitments—the New Delhi Declaration—which would be signed by all member countries. A total of 30 proposals focusing on improving the lives of people affected by desertification and droughts are set to be considered and debated.

“Over 122 countries which includes Brazil, China, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa apart from India which are among the largest and most populous nations on Earth, have agreed to make the SDG of achieving land degradation neutrality a national target," said Prakash Javadekar, Union minister for environment, forests and climate change.

According to UN, land degradation is costing humanity up to $1.3 billion every day.

Ahead of the conference, India announced the setting up of a Centre of Excellence at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun for providing technical assistance to meet the challenges.

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