Combating desertification: Monique Barbut’s fight through the UNCCD

Summary

Initiated during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and then adopted in Paris in July 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) took effect in 1996. It has now been signed by 194 countries. The Convention is the first and only international legal instrument that addresses the problems associated with desertification and ensures the long-term commitment of its participating countries. During World Day to Combat Desertification, observed on June 17, Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, discussed the Convention’s past, present, and future challenges. Interview.

13Août.
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How would you assess the actions taken over the 20 years of the Convention?

Monique Barbut: The Convention is a legally-binding instrument adopted by States to promote sustainable land management in an effort to prevent land degradation throughout the world. In response, developing countries have implemented national, subregional, and regional programs to combat land degradation and produce periodical reports on their progress. With the support of their development partners, particularly the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which funds the Convention, States are tackling these problems head-on, as evidenced by a growing number of success stories. In the Zinder region of Niger, farmers have rehabilitated more than 5 million hectares of degraded land over the past 20 years, using natural methods for regenerating trees and bushes. Soil fertility has improved, and more than 1 million inhabitants now have firewood, fodder, and fruit. The previously inaccessible water table has risen several meters, where it can now be reached by people and livestock. The regreening of land in the Sahel is now considered a successful case story to inspire other similar ecosystems.

Success stories like these can be found on every continent and are continuing to grow in number

In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, more than 1 million hectares of degraded land have been restored. Famines, once rampant in the region, have been curbed. Rehabilitation efforts in China’s Loess Plateau have led to the restoration of ecosystems and also rescued more than 2.5 million people from poverty. Success stories like these can be found on every continent and are continuing to grow in number.

Advocacy concerns covered by the Convention have evolved and are no longer treated as second-class topics. This is especially true since desertification, land degradation, and recurring drought have a reciprocal effect on the climate by amplifying the threat. The world today has a greater understanding of the opportunities created by land degradation prevention efforts in addressing numerous global challenges, including food security, poverty, loss of biodiversity, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Such efforts can also help counteract the destabilization of communities that have become impoverished, vulnerable, and helpless as a result of environmental degradation and preyed upon by groups exhorting obscurantist and terrorist teachings (such as Boko Haram in the Sahel).

Desertification, land degradation, and recurring drought have a reciprocal effect on the climate by amplifying the threat

In what way is combating desertification a global issue?

Monique Barbut: The Heads of State and Government at the Rio+20 Earth Summit were very clear on the point that the issues of desertification, land degradation, and drought have a global reach because they seriously impede the sustainable development of all countries, especially emerging countries. In short, these challenges impair and undermine the very foundations of sustainable development. For example, they have hindered efforts toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000, which have a target date of the end of this year.

We must increase food production by 70% and double the water supply! This will require an additional 4 million hectares of land per year

We know that the planet will have 9.6 billion people in 2050. As a result, we must increase food production by 70% and double the water supply! This will require an additional 4 million hectares of land per year. How is this possible if we continue to lose productive land due to desertification? Is the solution to continue deforestation strategies and dry out wetlands formed by marshes? Doing so would be suicidal and would lead to an environmental disaster. That is why, within the Convention, we recommend becoming a world that no longer degrades its land and restores land that has already been abandoned because of degradation. The Convention simply implements the call to action by the Heads of State and Government to do everything possible to become a world that no longer loses its farmland and that rehabilitates degraded land. I am delighted that the General Assembly of the United Nations is poised to establish a sustainable development objective with a target date of 2030.

Photo © : Joe Belanger