ENVIRONMENT: UN Meet Holds Out Hope for the Poorest

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By R Kim

SEOUL - More than one billion people inhabiting drylands in some 100 countries are caught in the pangs of poverty and excruciating hunger. They appear to have found a credible champion of their cause in the UNCCD, an acronym for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

This was signalled by the tenth conference of parties to the convention (COP10), which concluded in South Korea's Changwon on October 21. Commenting its outcome, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja welcomed in an interview that the "poor sister" of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), was coming "closer to its rightful place".

UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking the environment, development and the promotion of healthy soils. Its dual focus on environmental and developmental concerns places it in a unique position to facilitate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

"COP 10 will be remembered as the session that has brought lots of innovative both in the actions and the way parties interact among themselves," added Gnacadja.

Changwon Initiative

The major outcomes of COP10 include: creating a solid scientific foundation within UNCCD; high-level political support, including the Changwon Initiative, for the process of UNCCD; and sending a strong message on combating land degradation to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio plus 20), to be held in Brazil in June 2012.

The Changwon Initiative is a series of action plans to strengthen scientific findings behind land degradation issues, mobilise resources and forge greater partnerships, particularly with the private sector, and raise awareness about successful sustainable land management efforts around the world.

"I do believe that this Initiative will be a new landmark in the UNCCD process by fully capitalising the potentials of the process and galvanising stakeholders into action based on solid partnerships," Lee Don Koo, Minister of the Korea Forest Service and President of COP10, said.

Welcoming the Initiative, UNCCD Executive Secretary Gnacadja said: "Such a political initiative holds the potential for focused actions that aim at making a difference on the ground and contribute the improving the livelihoods of people living in ecosystems prone to desertification, land degradation and drought."

Together with the Changwon Initiative's aim to partner with the private sector, nearly 100 business leaders declared their support to combat desertification and restore productive lands with the inaugural Sustainable Land Management Business Forum held during COP10.

Seeking to promote efforts for sustainable land management, the Land for Life Award was announced on October 17. The Award is part of the Changwon Initiative's efforts to raise awareness and award.
The Land for Life Award will provide global recognition to individuals, teams, institutions, businesses, research institutes, public offices, political leaders, decision-makers, journalists, media, nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations whose work and initiatives have made a significant and innovative contribution to sustainable land management.

"We do hope that following the path of the Republic of Korea, several other countries and international organisations will do their utmost to reinforcing actions to combat desertification and land degradation," Gnacadja said.

"This conference has been highly successful and this is a big chance for Korea to increase its international cooperation on sustainable development issues," Lee Don Koo said.
The Forgotten Billion

A highlight of COP10 was the film The Man Who Stopped the Desert, an award winning documentary about Yacouba Sawadogo, a small-holder farmer in Burkina Faso who revived traditional agricultural techniques to restore barren land.

Another highlight was The Forgotten Billion – MDG Achievement in the Drylands, launched by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UNCCD, which was unveiled in September 2010. As the world reviews its progress in tackling global poverty and achieving the MDGs, drylands can no longer be ignored, cautions the report.

Drylands account for more than a third of the world’s land surface and more than 2 billion of its people. Yet for too long, drylands and their inhabitants have been neglected in development processes, making their living a "mission impossible".

Combating the degradation of the land in all ecosystems, not just in the drylands – where it is known as combating desertification – is not an option. About 22 percent of the global land degradation is occurring in the drylands of the world, while 78 percent is taking place in the non-drylands areas, that is, on the most productive lands.

About 41 percent of the Earth's is made up of both the drylands and deserts. The drylands – the areas outside the deserts – make up 34 percent of Earth's land area with 22 percent of this area in the process of degradation. By contrast, 78 percent of the degradation of the land is taking place in the humid areas.

Consequently, the global community loses 12 million hectares of productive land every year. This is equivalent to losing an area the size of South Africa or of France and Germany and Switzerland put together over a decade. This is not sustainable, say the report.

It reminds that despite the challenges of living in those areas, drylands have been inhabited for thousands of years. Today they underpin the global food supply, supporting about half the world’s livestock and major areas of cereal production in the North American Great Plains, Argentina’s Pampas and the wheat belts of Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Drylands are also the setting for major world cities such as Beijing, Cairo, Karachi, Los Angeles and Mexico City.

These simple facts explode the myth that all drylands are empty, barren places with little economic value, argues The Forgotten Billion. They also highlight the truism that drylands do not exist in isolation. In biophysical terms, drylands have in fact a planetary influence as vast sources of soil dust, material that affects soils, oceans and the atmosphere far beyond the dryland realm.

UN agencies' initiative

COP10 gave cause for hope to the poorest in drylands for yet another reason. With 10 percent of the world's dryland ecosystems already degraded, putting at risk the social and economic well-being of millions of people, UN agencies have agreed to step up their efforts to protect and revitalise drylands.

According to a new UN report, increased investment in drylands, strengthened links between science and policy, and diversified livelihoods for communities to relieve pressure on natural resources are among the solutions to realize the potential of drylands.

A UN system-wide response sets out a common vision and agenda for UN-wide action on drylands management and the UN's role in addressing climate change and food security through a positive development and investment approach.

Prepared by 18 UN agencies through the UN's Environment Management Group (EMG), the report was launched on October 20 in Changwon. It signifies a milestone by the UN system in supporting the implementation of the UNCCD's 10-year Strategic Plan by "delivering as one" in the areas of environment, development and humanitarian assistance by bringing together the UN's expertise, operational and coordination capabilities, and its advocacy role at the country, regional and global levels.

Developed following calls by governments for a UN system-wide response to land challenges, a central element of the common agenda is the need to address the underlying causes of land degradation and create enabling conditions for the sustainable development of drylands.

"Drylands have all too often been the poor relations in respect to more high profile ecosystems such as forests and coral reefs. Yet as this report underlines, they play a critical role in the Earth's planetary systems and support the lives and livelihoods of around two billion people," said Achim Steiner, Chair of the EMG and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

"The potential for enhancing carbon storage in dryland forests as both a climate mitigation and adaptation measure and in particular in Africa will be at the centre of Forest Day at the upcoming UN climate convention meeting in Durban," he said.









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