While ensuring national ownership and retaining the flexibility for countries to use their national data, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has outlined a standardized approach for reporting on SDG Indicator 15.3.1, which focuses primarily on the use of three sub-Indicators: Land Cover and Land Cover Change; Land Productivity; and Carbon Stocks above and below ground. Such a framework gives options for countries to use Earth Observation, geospatial information and other global/regional data sources in the absence of, or to complement and enhance, national data sources.

In 2015, the UNCCD secretariat conducted a Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Target Setting pilot project with 14 volunteer countries from all continents to design and test a methodological and operational framework to achieve LDN and report on SDG 15.3.1. This pilot project of the UNCCD to set voluntary targets in sustainable land management and monitor progress is based on a harmonized set of 3 measurable sub-Indicators: (1) land cover and land cover change, (2) land productivity trends and (3) soil organic carbon trends, with the first two global data sets entirely based on satellite Earth Observation data. This effort is continued in a LDN Target Setting Programme (LDN-TSP) with over 100 UNCCD countries, with the objective to help countries formulating voluntary targets to achieve LDN and incorporating them in UNCCD National Action Plans (NAPs).

Earth Observation Data Use

Earth Observations from Space have proven their reliability to track land cover change and biomass activity over long periods. As many countries, in particular from the developing world, face difficulties to access this type of information, UNCCD has established partnerships with the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC) and the International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC) to provide all interested countries with extractions of global datasets as default information for their LDN target setting process: (1) Land Cover (CCI-Land Cover) from the ESA Land Cover Climate Change Initiative, (2) Land Productivity Dynamics (LPD) from JRC and (3) Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) from ISRIC.


The work has focused on development of an agreed methodology to combine the three sub-Indicators into a measurement of the proportion of land that is degraded, which is required in order to fully implement the SDG Indicator 15.3.1.

While there is no single complex indicator which can unambiguously report on land degradation and restoration, monitoring efforts are nevertheless feasible when considering the three sub-Indicators in combination.

These methods are being developed with the assistance of institutions including the CSIRO.

Land Productivity Dynamics (LPD), 1999-2013; SPOT VEGETATION, 1km. The LPD dataset refers to the standing biomass productivity and is derived from phenological analyses of a 15-year time series (1998 to 2013) of global normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) observations from SPOT-VGT, composited in 10-day intervals at a spatial resolution of 1 km. The map shows 5 classes indicating areas of negative or positive change or stability and is an indicator of change or stability of the land’s apparent capacity to sustain the dynamic equilibrium of primary productivity in the given 15-year observation period. Credit: Joint Research Center (JRC)

Key Issues and Results

The LDN Target Setting pilot project has demonstrated the utility of global data sets on LC and LPD derived from satellite observations. Pilot countries have been able to use these global datasets in combination with their national data to set their national LDN targets.

Good practice guidance for each of the three sub-Indicators is essential to support countries in their measurement and evaluation of LC/LPD/SOC changes, and in their combination to assess land degradation. By summing those areas subject to changes (according to the three sub-Indicators), and whose conditions are considered negative by national authorities (i.e., land degradation), countries would be able to determine their pathway to deriving Indicator 15.3.1.

Analysis, Status, and Outlook

Although the existing global data sets (ESA CCI-Land Cover, JRC LPD and ISRIC SOC) have been adequately used by pilot countries to conduct their LDN target setting, the moderate resolution of these datasets is an issue, especially in mountainous regions, small island states and highly fragmented landscapes (patchiness of different LC types). There is a need to move to high resolution datasets.

The future will involve development of methodologies for the production of higher resolution (10-30m) global data sets for all three 15.3.1 sub-Indicators and support for countries on the integration of national data sets and knowledge to properly assess the complex process of land and soil degradation in their territory.

Global Land Cover Map, epoch 2010, ENVISAT MERIS FRS, 300m. The ESA CCI-Land Cover provides global land cover maps with 22 classes, at 300m resolution, for 3 epochs (2000, 2005 and 2010) and is entirely based on moderate resolution satellite data (ENVISAT MERIS, MODIS, SPOT VGT and PROBA-V). Credit: ESA Land Cover CCI

Partners, Contacts, More Information


ESA (Marc Paganini, marc.paganini@esa.int)

CSIRO (Alex Held, Alex.Held@csiro.au)

JRC  (Michael Cherlet, michael.cherlet@ec.europa.eu)

UNCCD Secretariat (Sara Minelli, SMinelli@unccd.int)

UNCCD Global Mechanism (Sven Walter, Swalter@unccd.int)


Contracting Parties of the UNCCD that participate to the LDN-TSP.