India will restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, more than its earlier target of 21 million hectares, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a UN conference to combat desertification.

Modi also reiterated India’s resolve to tackle the problem of plastic waste at the 14th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) at Greater Noida on Monday. The agenda of the UN conference is to reverse degradation of land and fix critical gaps in its management.

The Prime Minister called upon leaders of the UNCCD to prepare a global water action agenda, which would be “central to the land degradation neutrality strategy".

“India will be happy to help other friendly countries develop land restoration strategies through cost-effective satellite and space technology," Modi added.

The UNCCD is being hosted by India this time. As many as 196 countries are participating in the 12-day conference that began on 22 September. “I understand that an ambitious New Delhi declaration is being considered. We are all aware that the sustainable development goals have to be achieved by 2030, of which attaining land degradation neutrality is also a part," he added.

Modi said India will be happy to propose initiatives for greater South-South cooperation in addressing issues of climate change, biodiversity and land degradation.

“I would like to draw your attention to another form of degradation, which is the menace of plastic waste that also destroys land. My government has announced that India will put an end to single-use plastic in the coming years. We are committed to the development of environment-friendly substitutes. It is time to say goodbye to single-use plastic," he added.

In his Independence Day speech, Modi called for phasing out single-use plastic. The government has planned a mass movement from 2 October, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, to phase out single-use plastic.

Over the past week, policymakers from across the world have been deliberating on viable solutions to prevent increasing land degradation, desertification and drought.

“You will be shocked to know that desertification affects two-thirds of the countries which makes a compelling case. When we address degraded land, we also address water scarcity. Restoring the health of land is critical for sustainable development," the Prime Minister said.

India has high stakes in land restoration, since 30% of its total land area has been hit by degradation. Analysts said that if this target is realised, it would be one of the biggest environmental achievements for the country.

“This is a very significant announcement and an ambitious target. If we are able to restore 26 million hectare in the next 10 years, it would be one of the biggest environmental achievement. If you want to revive regraded land, we know how to do it. India has experience of wasteland development since 1970s, but we have not done it to the scale that is being announced. If enough money and resources are put in this, it can be done," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

Modi said that behavioural change remains key for the success of such missions, adding that his government’s Swachh Bharat Mission and the use of soil health cards have witnessed significant results.

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