Written by Gwenael and Clarisse Podesta.
On the 17th of June 2016, the United Nations will be celebrating the World Day to Combat Desertification. This year’s theme is “Protect earth. Restore land: Engage people” (see figure 1). This day is the opportunity to showcase the action of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), too often hidden behind its shiny twin sister, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
First, let’s go back in time. In June 1992 (A few months before I was born!), was held the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit , Rio Summit, Rio Conference, and Earth Summit. This conference was a major milestone in shaping the global environmental governance regime of the XXIst century. Indeed, not only did the Earth Summit result in documents such as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Agenda 21 or the Forest Principles, but more importantly, three legally binding agreements were opened for signatures : the UNFCCC, the UNCCD and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Twenty three years later (easy to count), while I’m writing these lines, the UNFCCC has indubitably drawn the major part of the attention, both from the policy makers and from the general public. Media coverage increased at every COP since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, and the saga of the establishment of the post-Kyoto Climate regime culminated in COP21, when all eyes were on Paris before the historic agreement was found.
In comparison, the UNCCD is the poor relation of the three Rio Conventions. While the CBD has managed to make its way through the international political agenda -in particular with the adoption of the Aichi Targets¹- the UNCCD remained widely unknown outside of inner circles. Desertification and land degradation is however a crucial issue, at the crossroads of food security, ecosystem and human health, climate, development and poverty (see figure 2).
A recent strategy of the soil-management-related stakeholders was to hang up to the UNFCCC process. The rationale is pretty robust: soils and biomass are carbon reservoirs provided with a bigger capacity than the atmosphere (respectively 4000 GtC and 360 GtC compared to 800 GtC for the atmosphere). Managing them properly would first avoid greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, but also store carbon,providing opportunities for negative emissions. In addition, enhancing soil carbon content increase its fertility and the resilience of farming systems, and ecosystem restoration is an efficient way to adapt local communities to climate change and to fight poverty.
Land use and ecosystem restoration has been part of the Clean Development Mechanisms for a while now, but this was particularly obvious at COP21, when the soil community tried to benefit from the political momentum to gain increased attention, underlying the synergies between climate mitigation, adaptation, and land degradation. Important global initiatives were launched or showcased then, such as the 4 per 1000 initiative² or the Great Green Wall in Sahelian Africa³. Joining UNCCD efforts with the other conventions proved to be quite a successful strategy as it allowed to leverage important financial commitments from countries, as shown in figure 3.
In 2016, the UNCCD may be back on the stage thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted last year. World leaders decided to make land degradation neutrality one of the targets of the SDGs, which means rehabilitating at least 12 million hectares of degraded land a year. A daunting challenge, but necessary to overcome if we want to solve climate change and eradicate poverty.
About the Authors: Clarisse Podesta is a graphic designer. Deeply concerned about environmental issues, she strives to commit her work for causes that are worth it. She recently joined CliMates’ NegoTracking team and is now dedicated to Negographics (even though there could be much more to do as regarding graphic design on this website!).
Gwenaël Podesta is a Master student in environmental economics at AgroParisTech (Université Paris Saclay). He attended several UNFCCC sessions with CliMates and participated in COP 21 as liaison officer with the delegation of el Salvador. This year, Gwenaël is the project coach of Negotiation Tracking.
¹The 20 Aichi Targets define the general guidelines for the 2011-2020 CBD Strategic Plan. Here is the list: https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/