ENVIRONMENT: Synergies in Fight Against Desertification , Climate Change

  • by Marcela Valente (buenos aires)
  • Wednesday, September 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

Ahead of the Climate Summit to be held in Copenhagen in December, representatives of 193 governments are meeting this week in Buenos Aires for the Ninth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 9) to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

From now on, it will be difficult to speak of climate change without talking about the need to replenish the soil, said Namibia's Environment and Tourism Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah after the second day of discussions at the COP 9 high-level group, made up of ministers of the states party and international officials.

Participants at this ninth session, which runs through Friday, debated the role land use will play in the negotiations on new climate change mitigation measures in the Danish capital. Nandi-Ndaitwah said there has never been such a clear link, based on scientific evidence, between climate change and degradation as there is now.

Delegates from Latin America and Africa insisted on the relevance and importance of the Convention to Combat Desertification, which has a different mandate from the Climate Change Convention. Seeking synergies, in complementary ways, is the path toward meeting the Convention's goals, said the Namibian minister.

The high-level meeting was opened by the Convention's executive secretary, Luc Gnacadja of Benin, who said that sustainable soil management must be part of the negotiations at Copenhagen. 'Carbon in the atmosphere is a pollutant, but in the soil, it is a commodity and a common good,' he said.

Gnacadja read a message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the assembled delegates, in which Ban maintained it was necessary to 'take into account the intrinsic linkages between desertification, land degradation and climate change.'

'Sustainable land management can make a critical contribution through carbon sequestration, land reclamation and efforts to combat soil loss and restore vegetation,' said Ban, adding that 'when world leaders gather in Copenhagen in December, the land agenda should be part of the picture.' He encouraged country representatives to make their deliberations a model for the delegates to the climate change conference.

Soil degradation, caused by climate effects as well as human activity, affects over two billion people around the world.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 25 percent of the land is degraded, accentuating poverty, hunger and migration.

According to scientific research, intensive agriculture, deforestation and soil degradation produce greenhouse gases that heat up the atmosphere. But by reversing the process, that is, by enriching degraded soil through sustainable management practices, carbon can be fixed in the soil instead of released into the atmosphere.

If soil degradation continues unchecked, causing loss of productivity, emigration and food insecurity, the impacts of climate change, like longer and more severe droughts in dry areas, will exacerbate the problems of poverty and hunger, the research indicates.

The head of the U.N. Forum on Forests, Jan McAlpine, who is attending the conference, told IPS the issue of soil degradation definitely has a role to play in discussions on climate change, although the relationship is a complex one.

The UNCCD is not only about the contribution of soil to fixing carbon, but also concerns the protection of biodiversity, water, and the welfare of people living in fragile ecosystems like dryland areas.

Sustainable forest management rests on a large number of conventions and agreements, she said.

The delegates also discussed the need for more resources to combat soil degradation. A greater financial commitment for soil renewal projects is needed, which according to some delegates might be provided under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Industrialised countries can offset greenhouse gas emissions under the Climate Change Convention by paying for reforestation projects elsewhere, which could contribute to replenishing degraded soil.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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