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Informing investments in land degradation neutrality efforts: A triage approach to decision making


Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 15.3 commits countries to strive towards land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. LDN requires reductions in land quality to be balanced by efforts to restore or rehabilitate degraded areas. However, decisions need to be made as to where to invest given limited budgets and the impossibility of targeting all degraded land.

Any prioritisation process is likely to be controversial and needs to be underpinned by transparent, justifiable, repeatable decision processes. In this paper, the authors develop a triage approach for LDN, drawing on experiences from biodiversity conservation. In conservation, triage refers to prioritisation where for a given budget, threatened species, habitats or ecosystems receive management if they contribute more to the achievement of particular objectives (e.g. maintaining ecosystem function, ensuring the survival of a species) and the management actions are more likely to be successful.

Conservation triage has proved both effective in allocating scarce resources, and controversial, as it requires acceptance that it is not possible to save everything. The authors present a decision framework 'the Decision Dahlia' that transposes triage principles to the LDN decision context, recognising that not all land can be improved.

First, the authors consider countries’ reporting needs on SDG 15.3 and set out a decision process to support progress towards three biophysical global indicators agreed by the United Nations. Second, they take a more people-centred approach, recognising the imperative for social justice and good governance, matching LDN investment decisions more closely with societal needs in an integrated social-ecological systems approach. The authors then reflect on the remaining risks, such as the potential for vulnerable areas to miss out on investments due to the scale of decision making and challenges of leakage.

While the authors acknowledge the controversial nature of the approach, they argue that a decision framework grounded in triage principles, offers a transparent, justifiable and repeatable process for deciding where to invest in efforts to achieve LDN. This can lower financial costs and help to reduce risks so that ‘striving towards LDN’ does not exacerbate existing drivers of land loss and worsen poverty.

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