Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 14 - May 2016
International Developments

Land in the SDGs

Much has been said, and much remains unknown about the implementation of the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, [Arabic] adopted at the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2015.

Replacing and claiming to improve upon the Millennium Development Goals that expired last year, the new agenda boasts five innovations that make this global attempt at equitable development more effective.

It also addresses some issues that were adopted in the 2000 Millennium Declaration [Arabic], but not appearing in the 2001 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These include the current development principle of supporting effective institutions, good governance, therule of lawand peaceful societies.

However, on this latest point, the SDGs still fall short of meeting some urgencies stated in the current Agenda’s problem statement. They offer no goal, target or indicator

to remove the obstacles to the full realization of the right of self-determination of peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation, which continue to adversely affect their economic and social development as well as their environment (Introduction, para 35).

The Millennium Declaration also addressed light-weapons proliferation and weapons of mass destruction (para. 9), and the violation of international humanitarian law (para. 26), also with no corresponding goals. The new SDGs take heed of none of these already-acknowledged impediments to development. Another Millennium Declaration priority is touched upon, however, in SDG 16.5: “Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms.” 

One new departure is the universality of the 2030 Agenda – meaning that it applies to all countries at all levels of development, taking into account their different capacities and circumstances. Implementation will be driven by a new Global Partnership theoretically characterized by shared responsibility, mutual accountability, and engagement by all. The Means of Implementation for the new Agenda are outlined in the SDGS and the 2015 Addis Ababa Financing Development Action Agenda.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits to a stronger follow-upand review framework than what existed for the MDGs. Depending on how that is managed, the principled outcome would be to ensure that the Agenda is implemented for all, leaving no-one behind, reaching the furthest behind first, shared prosperity and decent work for all.

The 2030 Agenda reflects a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. Within that Agenda, fully six of the 17 SDGs involve land in one way or another. These include:

Clearly land is recognized as an important and oft-cited resource for development in the 2030 Agenda. Its administration consistent with the development goals involves many aspects and actions, from maintain the organic quality of soils, to upholding legal protections of lands for housing and livelihoods.

One key aspect of land in the SDG with implications for structural changes is ensuring security of land tenure. Although security of tenure is not present in the Goals, its relevance is found in the metadata and the proposed indicators.

Goal 1: End Poverty in all its forms everywhere

Target 1.4 “By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources…” Indicator 1.4.2, proposed by UNDP and UN-Habitat, seeks to measure the “proportion of women, men, indigenous peoples and local communities with secure tenure rights to individually or communally held land, property and natural resources.”

Target 1.5 also requires efforts to guarantee land tenure. It sets out, by 2030, to “build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.”

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Achieving this goal foresees reaching Target 2.3 “By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs…”

Compatible Target 2.a calls for efforts to “Increase investment, including through enhanced international cooperation, in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development and plant and livestock gene banks in order to enhance agricultural productive capacity in developing countries, in particular least developed countries.” Efforts to reach this Target rely on land tenure security and maintaining urban-rural linkages.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

The “Means of Implementation”for this SDG requires governments to pursue Target 5.A:“Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.” The indicator 5.a.1, proposed by FAO, calls for measuring the (a) percentage of people with ownership or secure rights over agricultural and (out of total agricultural population), by sex, and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, type of tenure. The explanation of this indicator points out the need for data to be disaggregated by type of tenure.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

This SDG is a natural home for Targets and Indicators that ensure and measure secure land tenure. The Metadata for Indicator 11.1.1 seeks to determine the “percentage of urban population living in slums or informal settlements.” In this context, we find the definition of “slum” as habitation that lack any of (1) durable housing, (2) sufficient living space, (3) easy access to safe water, (4) access to adequate sanitation, and (5) security of tenure. Tenure is here understood to include various types, defined as ranging from “evidence of documentation that can be used as proof of secure tenure status,” or “either de facto or perceived / protection from forced evictions.”

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

In taking steps to reach this Goal, we find the most-technical Targets and Indicators. These relate to the conservation, restoration and sustainable use ofecosystems in line with obligations under international agreements.

While tenure security is not mentioned anywhere in the Metadata or Indicators, this remains a gap to be filled. Frontline communities, the Food Sovereignty Movement and environmentalists have posed the need for structural shifts toward more-sustainable practices, including traditional land management and agro-ecology. [Arabic] States and governments will have to respect and protect the tenure security of those who practice such restorative methods of land use.


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