Mon, 23 May 2022

The UN's COP 15 against desertification has kicked off in the Ivorian capital, striving for concrete action against the rapid degradation of land and its dire consequences for biodiversity and livelihoods.

Less well-known than its "big sister" on climate, the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), addresses issues that are every bit as crucial.

According to the UN, 40 percent of the world's land is degraded and 12 million hectares of land are lost every year - equivalent to the surface of Belgium or Benin.

Nine African heads of state, including Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum, DRC's Felix Tshisekedi and Togo's Faure Gnassingbe are expected to attend the meeting with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

French President Emmanuel Macron and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen will join in the debates by video conference.

Breaking point

Over the next 10 days, 196 states plus the EU will try to agree on concrete measures to help restore land to its natural state.

The COP15 theme, 'Land. Life. Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity', is "a call to action to ensure land, the lifeline on this planet, continues to benefit present and future generations," the UNCCD said in a statement.

The summit in Abidjan comes against the backdrop of a stark warning issued by the UNCCD that up to 40 percent of all ice-free land is already degraded, with dire consequences for climate, biodiversity and livelihoods.

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"The Conference will focus on the restoration of one billion hectares of degraded land between now and 2030, future-proofing land use against the impacts of climate change, and tackling escalating disaster risks such as droughts, sand and dust storms, and wildfires," said the UN institution.

"Human beings live on land, but we also live off the land. We cannot take it for granted," said UNCCD's Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw. "We have already reached a breaking point: there is no longer a balance between our needs and the capacity of the land to regenerate and produce."

Africa hard hit

The African continent is particularly affected by desertification, especially in its Sahelian band and the Horn of Africa where droughts, aggravated by climate change, are becoming more frequent and severe.

But drought isn't the only factor. The African continent is losing 4 million hectares of forest every year.

Intensive agriculture methods are responsible for 80 percent of deforestation and 70 percent of freshwater use, the UN's Global Land Outlook 2 report found.

Six million hectares of additional land must be put into production every year between now and 2030 to feed the planet's growing population. The report called for $1.6 trillion in investment for land restoration over the next eight years.

"Restoring land is also fighting against poverty, and irregular immigration," Thiaw said. "Many studies have established the link between land degradation and migration - in Haiti, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Sahel and elsewhere. When people have no options they flee."

Investing in land restoration, he said, "makes sense from every point of view - economic, business, socially, environmentally".

Turning the tide

The question of how to increase harvests without impoverishing the soil or destroying forests, how to slow down desertification, provide populations directly affected by such catastrophes with opportunities, are just some of the crucial issues on the table at COP 15, which runs through to 20 May.

Youth activists focused on biodiversity, adaptation and "saving the soil" initiatives will also be present.

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A key issue is the Great Green Wall - a gigantic project to reclaim one hundred million hectares of agricultural land from the desert along the Sahel stretching 7,000 kilometres from Senegal to Djibouti which got bogged down in disagreements over how to monitor and measure progress.

Iraq's "green belt" - a 76-km strip of greenery envisaged as a lush fortress against worsening desertification and sand storms has proven a failure with only a fraction of the strip materialised since its inception in 2006.

"This is the generation that must turn the page and turn the tide," said Thiaw. "We are destroying the planet in one generation, and we don't have three generations to fix it."

Originally published on RFI

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