Main authors: Catherine Bowyer , Clunie Keenleyside, Silvia Nanni, Anouchka Hoffmann, Nathalie van Haren , Karin van Boxtel, Paul Wolvekamp
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Bowyer, C. et al. (2018) Initial stocktaking report on existing policy measures. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 8.1, 125 pp


This section of iSQAPERiS captures the SDG goals, targets and indicators that are relevant for the responsible governance of land, the sustainable management and use of land, as well as the health of soils. It also highlights that actions taken to improve land governance, increase soil health and achieve land degradation neutrality can make a significant contribution to multiple SDGs, and ultimately to achieving the 2030 Agenda. In particular it highlights linkages between sustainable land use and:

  • 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
  • Target 1.5: By 2030, 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.
  • 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
  • Target 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
  • Target 3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination
  • Target 5a: 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
  • Target 10. 1: By 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average
  • Target 12.4: By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle
  • Target 15.2: By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally
  • Target 15.3: By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world
  • Target 15.a: Mobilize and significantly increase financial resources from all sources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Target 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all
  • Target 16.7: Ensure responsive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels
  • Target 17.6: Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge-sharing on mutually agreed terms
  • Target 17.16: Enhance the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

The SDGs provide targeted commitments and a new language that can be used by all actors, from policymakers and citizens to academics, civil society and the private sector, to discuss progress towards sustainable development, and to align their agendas with the 2030 Agenda.

While the 2030 Agenda itself provide a globally ambitious framework, responsibility for driving the SDGs forward rests first and foremost in the hands of national governments, as progress towards realising the goals is largely dependent on individual member states’ actions. Changes in national policies and local development plans will thus be crucial for creating appropriate incentives and disincentives for strong land governance, judicious use of land and soil restoration.

This presents both challenges and opportunities. Most governments within democratic societies are relatively short-lived, and the time horizons of policymakers are often limited to the next elections. This runs counter to the medium-to-long term thinking and action that is often needed to improve land rights laws and achieve more sustainable land use. In countries with autocratic regimes, governments may be characterised by greater stability, but are frequently unresponsive to public needs or international pressure to address land-related issues.

In many nations, the land sector is characterised by weak governance, political patronage, corruption and low enforcement of existing laws and policies. In many cases, State security apparatus is an active part of the problem, engaging in forcible evictions of communities and playing a role in violence perpetrated against land rights defenders. Meanwhile, donor agencies, fearful of treading on domestic sensitivities, have often shied away from engaging in land rights issues. Yet facing and addressing these governance issues will be crucial not only for addressing land rights violations and land degradation, but also for achieving the many SDGs Targets with strong land components.

Internal governance failings are not the only obstacle to navigating a path towards land governance in the context of the SDGs. The world is currently facing major upheavals stemming from conflict, mass migration, the threat of terrorism, climate change and economic stagnation. In some cases these have given rise to new populist movements and regimes seeking to withdraw from international policy spaces and cooperative actions. This presents a major threat to a ‘globalist’ UN initiative such as the 2030 Agenda.

There is also currently a major question mark as to where the money to deliver the necessary changes – known as the ‘means of implementation – will come from. While many donors and the World Bank are keen on so call ‘blended’ solutions involving public funds to mobilise private finance, there is limited evidence that this approach will generate sufficient funds to meet the scale of the challenge, or that it can be successful in cases where the interventions do not present clear opportunities for private companies to generate returns on their investments.

Then there is the question of how to manage trade-offs and balance the needs of competing interest groups. This is particularly significant in the context of land, as competing pressures on land for crop production, grazing land biofuels, fodder, fibre, forests, property development, infrastructure, hydropower energy, minerals and oil and gas mean that decisions on how to prioritise certain SDG targets will lead to the creation of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, at least in the short term. Difficulties in managing these trade-offs could encourage government inertia.

Even where action by policymakers is taken, there are difficulties in assessing where progress is being made on many issues, as the indicators that have been developed to track them lack defined methodologies or readily available data sources. For example, little data currently exists on the proportion of the adult population with secure rights to land. Despite some scattered initiatives, tenure security has never been systematically monitored or measured across nations. Yet this is critical for policymakers to understand, especially given the strong link between securing property rights and various SDG Targets.

Nonetheless, there is hope that progressive reforms to land governance and land and soil management can be achieved. The fact that the SDGs embrace complexity means that policymakers can see the linkages between action in one area and impacts on other targets. This provides a strong logical framework for governments to enact land-related measures that can achieve multiple objectives in helping countries to meet their 2030 Agenda commitments. These linkages will become increasingly difficult for policymakers to ignore, as they also tie into other international frameworks concerning the responsible governance of tenure, indigenous people’s rights, women’s rights, climate change and land degradation and desertification.

Furthermore, it is important to recall that the SDGs were constructed by States as a collective effort, and thus reflect their own priorities. Although the Goals are broad and complex, they have also helped to provide a clearer sense of what ‘development’ is across nations, and to approach the Goals as a joint challenge. Governments are also committed to framing future development financing through the SDGs.

D8.1 fig06
Figure 6

Source: AidData (accessed July 13, 2017)

In terms of data, new geospatial technologies and forms of participatory data collection and sharing will be an important part of efforts to fill these data gaps. Furthermore, a high level working group recently agreed on a set of household survey questions to be included within national-level surveys and censuses to measure how secure peoples’ land rights are. This agreement will help custodian agencies of this indicator make the argument this October at the Inter-Agency Expert Group meeting on the SDGs that Indicator 1.4.2 deserves to be reclassified from Tier 3 status, where it is in danger of being dropped from the SDG agenda, to a safer Tier 2 status that would allow countries to start the global investments in the data collection of monitoring security of tenure.

But perhaps the greatest cause for hope lies in the multiple stakeholders with an interest in advocating, implementing and tracking land issues related to the SDGs. While accountability for the SDGs primarily lies between governments and their citizens, the 2030 Agenda involves a shared commitment between various actors in the implementation and monitoring progress of the SDGs. These include land users themselves, civil society organisations, the private sector, academics, as well as the UN system. The 2030 Agenda gives the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) a central role in overseeing a network of follow-up and review processes at the global level and provides it with a “platform for partnerships”.

Multiple actors from within these various communities are increasingly framing their work within the context of the SDGs. It is essential that these actors forge effective partnerships to push for better land governance and sustainable land and soil management to be at the core of the 2030 Agenda. They should also work together to break down the considerable obstacles to sustainable land governance and use and communicate the importance of land-related policies and actions in yielding progress towards multiple Sustainable Development Goals.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see



Go To Top