Unanimous commitment to restore 12 million hectares of degraded land globally every year

Photo credit: The Irish Times

A plan to slow global warming

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification promised to restore 12 million hectares of degraded land a year. Could this really reduce warming by half a degree?

The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has many flaws in the eyes of Turkish environmental NGOs, but even they might have to admit that he has a good environmental speechwriter. “Humanity needs a new relationship with nature,” he told the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, in Ankara last month. “We are living like foreigners on our own planet. Our consciences, as well as our land, have become degraded.”

Desertification and land degradation, he added, are “the prime reasons people are leaving their homelands”. He went on to castigate the developed countries for failing to support refugees and migrants from ruined land. “Industrialised countries have caused the world’s environmental problems, which lead to conflicts and migrations, and the price is paid by the poorest countries. This is unjust and cannot continue,” he said. The Turkish president concluded a rousing speech by reminding delegates that climate change and drought are “the most important issues in today’s world”. That comment was echoed many times at the two-week conference.

“It is time to stop debating; it is time to act,” Barbara Thompson, South Africa’s impressive deputy environment minister, said during a three-hour “open dialogue session” in which hardly any dialogue took place. Urgency and practical action were often sorely absent. Many ministers were content to read statements claiming national environmental efforts and targets that were, frankly, incredible. And if climate change and drought are truly so important, why was no prime minister or president, apart from Erdogan, present? Perhaps they are saving themselves for the Paris COP21 climate negotiations, later this month.

Nevertheless, something significant did happen in Ankara, cloaked though it was in awkward language. (You are going to have to get used to hearing about “land degradation neutrality”, or LDN – one of what is becoming an indigestible soup of initialisms.) The conference’s unanimous commitment to restore 12 million hectares of degraded land globally every year, even though voluntary, is not to be sniffed at.

Read the full article: The Irish Times

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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.