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Combating Desertification and Drought

Desertification Costs World Economy up to 15 trillion dollars – U.N.

Forest fires, droughts and other forms of land degradation cost the global economy as much as 15 trillion dollars every year and are deepening the climate change crisis. Pictured is a drone visual of an area in Upper East Region, Ghana prior to restoration taken in 2015. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah /IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2019 (IPS) - Forest fires, droughts and other forms of land degradation cost the global economy as much as 15 trillion dollars every year and are deepening the climate change crisis, a top United Nations environment official said Friday.

Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), said the degradation of land was shaving 10-17 percent off the world economy, which the World Bank calculates at 85.8 trillion dollars.

“In very simple terms, the message is to say: invest in land restoration as a way of improving livelihoods, in reducing vulnerabilities contributing to climate change, and reducing risks for the economy,” Thiaw said in response to a question from IPS.

Thiaw spoke to reporters in New York through a video-link from New Delhi, India, where delegates from UNCCD signatories are gathering for talks on tackling the desertification threat, which runs until Sept. 13.

Droughts and desertification currently hit 70 countries each year, while sand and dust storms are becoming a growing menace around the world, leading to asthma, bronchitis and other health problems, Thiaw warned.

“The good news is that the technology, the science and the knowledge is there to actually reduce land degradation and fix this phenomenon once and for all,” said Thiaw, formerly a Mauritanian official and deputy chief of the U.N. Environment Programme.

“Land restoration is being done in many parts of the world and by restoring land we are able to mitigate climate change.”

Some 100 government ministers and 8,000 delegates from 196 countries are at the UNCCD talks, which will cover drought, land tenure, restoring ecosystems, climate change, health, sand and dust storms and funding to revamp cities.

Thiaw praised a record-breaking turnout of decision-makers in the Indian capital that “could mark a major turning point for how we manage the scarce land and water resources we have left.”

Attendees include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his counterpart from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, and the world body’s deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed.

An outcome document, known as the “Delhi Declaration”, will inform this month’s climate summit in New York and spur a “coalition of like-minded countries” to make firmer pledges on tackling droughts, said Thiaw.

“We are fast running out of time to build our resilience to climate change, avoid the loss of biological diversity and valuable ecosystems and achieve all other Sustainable Development Goals,” said Thiaw, referencing the U.N.’s SDG agenda. 

“But we can turn around the lives of the over 3.2 billion people all over the world that are negatively impacted by desertification and drought, if there is political will. And we can revitalise ecosystems that are collapsing from a long history of land transformation and, in too many cases, unsustainable land management.”

Droughts are getting worse, says the UNCCD. By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will experience serious water shortages, and two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in “water-stressed” conditions.

Though droughts are complex and develop slowly, they cause more deaths than other types of disasters, the UNCCD warns. By 2045, droughts will have forced as many as 135 million people from their homes.

Last month, a report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that better management of land can help limit the release of greenhouse gases and thus combat global warming.

Tackling desertification and other forms of land degradation could help keep the global rise in temperatures below the benchmark figure of 2 degrees Celsius, IPCC scientists said in the 43-page study. 

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  • Acevoice

    In nature, forest fires are an ecological management strategy that actually controls productivity and sustainability. Fires weed out the undergrowth and encourage nutrient cycling so that the different canopies can keep pace in maturation cycles. The case of the Amazon forest fires need little monetary interventions because they could have been natural.

    But not so any more. Human encroachment into the natural habitats has been unprecedented recently. Over at the Indonesian palm forests, replacement reforestation has not spared the natural forests. Of the Californian forests, settlements as of the Paradise have not been to replace the natural forest but the aesthetic commercially popular forests. The Australian dry forests can not survive as human exploitation outpaces natural regeneration.

    And then there are the greed-driven deforestation. The African cases of Kenya’s water catchment exploitation for cashcrops or the DR Congo’s diamond mining tracts have had a one-way degradation direction. The American cornbelt is never a lesson taken to heart of how short term economic development can strip off the longterm socioeconomic benefits. Investment for the future development is ignored even with B-Powell’s profess to leave the world better than we find it.

    The oil culture is currently driving policies the world over. Renewable energy has been shafted to the back as powers-that-are ride rough for political gains and geopolitical dominance. And China’s over-consumptive desire to meet its low cost production strategies care little for a tomorrow. Might as well wipe out humanity for all we care, and God be damned.

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