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Climate and Land Degradation Workshop

 

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Background

Desertification is defined in the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as “land degradation in the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Furthermore, UNCCD defines land degradation as a "reduction or loss, in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas, of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rain-fed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest, and woodlands resulting from land uses or from a process or combination of processes, including processes arising from human activities and habitation patterns, such as: (i) soil erosion caused by wind and/or water; (ii) deterioration of the physical, chemical, and biological or economic properties of soil; and (iii) long-term loss of natural vegetation." 

According to the UNCCD, over 250 million people are directly affected by land degradation. In addition, some one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk. These people include many of the world's poorest, most marginalized, and who tend to lack strong political leverage. 

In the words of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, desertification is one of the world’s most alarming processes of environmental degradation. Under the scenario of climate change, droughts, flash floods, dust storms, famine, migratory movements, and forest fires, all linked to desertification are bound to increase, leading to loss in human well-being and high socioeconomic costs. 

It is the impact of land degradation on global food security and the quality of the environment that is of major significance and concern when one considers that only about 11% of the global land surface can be considered as prime land, and this must feed the 6 billion people today and the 8.2 billion expected in the year 2020. Long-term food productivity is threatened by soil degradation, which is now severe enough to reduce yields on approximately 16% of the agricultural land, especially cropland in Africa, Central America and pastures in Africa. Sub- Saharan Africa has the highest rate of land degradation, where the livelihood of the inhabitants of the dryland areas is constantly under threat. It is estimated that losses in productivity of cropping land in sub-Saharan Africa are in the order of 0.5–1% annually, suggesting productivity loss of at least 20% over the last 40 years. 

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Sustainable development of countries affected by drought and desertification can only come about through concerted efforts based on a sound understanding of the different factors that contribute to land degradation around the world. Climatic variations are recognized as one of the major factors contributing to land degradation, as defined in the Convention and it is important that greater attention be paid to understand the role of different climatic factors in land degradation. For example, development and adoption of sustainable land management practices is one of the major solutions to combat land degradation over the vast drylands around the world, but to accurately assess sustainable land management practices, the climate resources and the risk of climate-related or induced natural disasters in a region must be known. Many affected countries that are Parties to the Convention have elaborated their National Action Programmes to Combat Desertification (NAP), and are now in the process of their implementation. The Conference of the Parties has called for the provision of information and advice on scientific and technological matters relating to combating desertification, with a view to supporting the effective implementation of the NAPs.   

Only when climate resources are paired with potential management or development practices can the land degradation potential be assessed and appropriate mitigation technologies be developed.   The use of climate information must be applied in developing sustainable practices as climatic variation is one of the major factors contributing to or even acting as a trigger to land degradation. There is a clear need to consider carefully how climate induces and influences land degradation. 

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) contributes to understanding the interactions between climate and land degradation through dedicated observations of the climate system; improvements in the application of agrometeorological methods and the proper assessment and management of water resources; advances in climate science and prediction; and promotion of capacity building in the application of meteorological and hydrological data and information in drought preparedness and management.   However, much more needs to done and to promote further interest and research in this topic. For COP-7, WMO produced a brochure entitled "Climate and Land Degradation” and a side event on the same topic was held on 18 October 2005 at COP-7.  The side event was chaired by H.E. Prof. Mark Mwandosya, Minister of Communications and Transport, Government of Tanzania.  H.E. Dr Chris Murungaru , EGH, M.P., Minister of Transport, Government of Kenya gave the welcoming remarks.  Mr Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General,  World Meteorological Organization made a presentation on “WMO and UNCCD: a partnership to combat drought and desertification”. A DVD of these presentation was produced by WMO and the Kenyan Meteorological Departement.

At its 58th ordinary session, the General Assembly declared 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD). In doing so, the General Assembly underlined its deep concern for the exacerbation of desertification, particularly in Africa, and noted its far-reaching implications for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that must be met by 2015.  The IYDD presents a golden opportunity to get the message across strongly and effectively that Desertification is a global problem that we ignore at our peril. It also provides an impulse to strengthen the visibility and importance of the drylands issue on the international environmental agenda, while providing a timely reminder to the international community of the immense challenges that still lie ahead.

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