Last month, the Indian Parliament devised legislation to replace the archaic Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the British colonial-era law that dictates terms for government acquisition of private land. The new law, which would be renamed The Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act, aims to address India’s chronic land disputes between developers and local communities (which I addressed in part in a previous blog on coal energy in India). The legislation is currently being reviewed by a Cabinet committee due to concerns expressed by several Cabinet ministers that the conditions stipulated for land acquisition are too steep for industry.

Industry interests hope that the new law will streamline the existing land acquisition process and resolve ongoing delays to project development. The legislation under negotiation would allow not only government but also private companies that provide “public” services to acquire land for industry and infrastructure projects, provided that they (1) obtain consent from at least 80 percent of affected landowners, (2) provide compensation at two to four times the market value for rural land and two times the market value for private land, and (3) assist displaced persons with resettlement.

Despite the more concrete procedure for land acquisition outlined in this draft legislation, some business groups, including the Confederation of Indian Industry, complain that the provisions will increase costs to industry and make some projects unviable. It is with these industry interests in mind that the Cabinet committee is reviewing the legislation.

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coal, development, India, land acquisition, land use, negotiations

International youth invite delegates to hide their emissions by throwing plastic "emissions" balls through a parody of the LULUCF loophole rules (Photo courtesy SustainUS)

Logging loopholes, gigaton gaps, and other funny phrases await resolution from negotiators now that the United Nations climate talks have wrapped up in Bonn. From finance to forests, a lot of issues will be taken up by governments when they meet again in—surprise—Bonn, in August, and then again in China later this year. Waiting until the annual high-level climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, in November to address these issues would leave little chance of solving them by that summit’s end.

Land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) issues dominated much of the discussion in Bonn. Many developed (Annex I) nations argued for historical “baseline” rules that would give them credit for more emissions reductions than they actually achieved. That baseline serves as a reference period for assessing how greenhouse gas emissions from forestry practices (mostly logging) and land use activities (creating or destroying wetlands, grasslands, etc.) have changed over time due to human activity. If developed countries get their way, the rules would allow carbon storage from forest growth to count toward their reductions, but ignore future emissions from fires and logging.

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Increasing scientific evidence, urgent calls to action, heated debates over burden-sharing and financial mechanisms…  Sounds familiar? Actually, these words best describe the proceedings of the ninth Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) which recently finished in Buenos Aires with mixed results. But of course, they could also sum up recent gatherings under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Consider iisd reporting services’ recap: “Despite expectations that a COP 9 decision might lead to a new shared understanding of the structure and mandate of the Convention’s bodies, polarized positions on these issues resulted in a late night impasse and decisions that largely left resolution on this issue to a future COP.”

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification recently wrapped up their ninth Conference of the Parties

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification recently wrapped up their ninth Conference of the Parties

Not all decisions were delayed however.  The parties to the convention agreed on a set of indicators that all countries would monitor in order to build a solid understanding of drought and desertification across the world.  In an interview with us last month, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja expressed the importance of establishing such indicators, especially for financing efforts at combating desertification.  As he put it, “Well-designed indicators allow you to know what you’re measuring and can direct investment to areas of need.”  Beginning in 2012 all affected countries will now be required to report on at least two minimum statistics: First, the proportion of the population in affected areas living above the poverty line – chosen because land degradation can be both a cause and effect of high poverty levels – and second, land cover status – rated in terms of changes to net primary productivity (a measure of vegetation levels). Even if the methodological details and data-gathering procedures for this required information have yet to be worked out, the agreement was touted as a major accomplishment.

There is an important lesson to be learned for the December climate summit in Copenhagen from UNCCD’s insistence on developing a range of consistent indicators: The range of indicators that the UNFCCC deals with includes the findings of the IPCC as well as the specifics of how carbon emissions are reported. There are major questions such as: What’s a more just measurement, per capita emissions or total emissions? And where are carbon emissions allocated, in the country importing or exporting a particular commodity?  Answering these questions definitively will be essential to the global governance on climate change.  As Gnacadja put it in his closing speech of the conference, “to describe an elephant, you have to agree on what an elephant looks like.”

climate effects, land use, negotiations

From 21 September to 2 October, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will hold its Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP-9) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. UNCCD was one of three major multilateral environmental agreements created at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. This interview with Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary, addresses the many linkages between land degradation and climate change and between COP-9 and the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Interview conducted by John Mulrow, MAP Sustainable Energy Fellow with the Worldwatch Institute.

Luc Gnacadja is the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification

Luc Gnacadja is the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertificat

What proposals have the [UNCCD-commissioned] Independent Body of Scientists made [concerning measures to monitor and assess changes in desertification, land degradation, and drought]? Do their proposals include financing for developing countries?

It is not the role of the Body of Scientists to call for more funding. Their concern is how to monitor indicators—ecological and economic—of desertification. This will have a major impact on investment because well-designed indicators allow you to know what you’re measuring and can direct investment to areas of need. There are currently eleven impact indicators that have been through an almost two-year process with a group of scientists.

At this stage and at this time, the science allows us to agree on indicators. Given that common ground of indicators, we [can] discuss [potential solutions]. Not every indicator has to be reinvented, as we share many concerns with other issues that have their own indicators. For example, poverty indicators are shared with the [Millennium Development Goals] process.

Are there countries that are championing the effort to combat desertification?

We have successful stories on almost every continent. You have heard about the greening of the Sahel. We have noticed the improvement of land cover in the Sahel thanks to a combined effort of improved investment and policy. We have also noticed in China and in India, in their stimulus packages, room has been made for land management. These decisions were made especially out of concern for national security.

The issue is how to scale up and scale out these successes. By compiling satellite data from 1991 to 2006, we found that 16 percent of the land has been improved, mainly in the dryland, and 35 percent has been degraded, mainly in tropical zones.

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climate effects, desertification, land use