Summary and Outlook

Profound interlinkages with the global development agenda notwithstanding, desertification and dryland degradation are concepts that relate first and foremost to global environmental change. Specifically, desertification circumscribes processes of environmental degradation in the roughly 40% of the Earth's land masses that are climatically arid, semi-arid or sub-humid. Contrary to popular belief, desertification neither relates to an encroachment of existing deserts nor is it a genuine global commons issue in the sense that global warming or stratospheric ozone depletion are. Despite significant global interlinkages, desertification as such, occurs locally and accordingly, needs to be primarily addressed at local and regional levels where it may be halted or reversed. Yet, desertification has evolved as a globalization concept that has achieved considerable status, both symbolically and substantially, in the intricate governance of north-south relations. Besides, the process by which the political globalization of desertification has been advanced undergirds the notion that global policy making is no longer an exclusive domain of nation states. Academic experts, international bureaucrats, multinational enterprises and civil society actors at local, national and transnational levels have all had a part to play in shaping the ways in which desertification is perceived, and, subsequently influence the outcomes of global desertification politics. The global governance approach to dryland degradation has found its expression manifested in the UNCCD. Although the latter evidently evolved as a product of two decades of international environmental politics, it simultaneously reflects a global paradigm shift in which development concerns have arguably taken precedence over environmental issues since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and, even more so, since the global endorsement of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. Part and parcel of the global discourse on sustainable development, the UNCCD process in its first decade has indeed contributed to highlighting the interlinkages among desertification, environmental protection and poverty. Hence, the global response to desertification embodied by the UNCCD can in parallel be seen as a manifestation of the globalization of the sustainable development paradigm [52].

Against this background, some argue that the implementation of the UNCCD epitomizes postmodern global governance [70]. Skeptics caution, however, that the establishment of a global convention was a wrong strategic choice to address the manifold problems associated with drylands development and that the UNCCD evades the real challenges that people affected by desertification are facing [42]. Arguably, now that the UNCCD process at last seems prepared "to move from its initial conceptual phase to a much awaited implementation phase" it finds itself at a crossroad [34]. Whichever path it may take, the global magnitude of both the severe socio-economic and environmental ramifications of desertification is not to be denied. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the "combat" against desertification can and will be effectively fought by global means or whether humankind would be better advised to de-globalize desertification and resort to addressing land degradation on the ground. In this context, the policy relevance of competing conceptual understandings of desertification must not be forgotten. While the United Nations definition does provide useful relief from the taxonomic haggling preceding the UNCCD, it does not actually solve the problems that are ineluctably attached to a definition that is neither scientifically precise nor politically unambiguous. Clearly, a solution to this dilemma is not in sight. Alas, the limitations of the prevalent concept of desertification and its implications in terms of how it is employed academically as well as politically always need to be borne in mind as we strive for a better understanding of desertification as both a product and a driver of global environmental change.

Negotiating Essentials

Negotiating Essentials

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