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China, UNCCD to curb desertification along drought-stricken belt

China and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on Friday (17 June 2016) in Beijing, China launched the Joint Action Initiative to combat desertification, rehabilitate degraded land and mitigate the effects of drought (JAI). The initiative aims to make the whole region along the “Silk Road” environmentally sound and ecologically sustainable.

Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD. Photo credit: www.iisd.ca

The countries expect to prepare adequately for drought, create ecosystem stability and protect desert, steppe, pasture and oasis biodiversity and developing infrastructure.

Together, countries will monitor and evaluate sand and dust storms. They will rehabilitate new and emerging source areas and those affected by disaster. They will revegetate mining and industrial wastelands and create shelter belts to protect vital infrastructure.

JAI provides the framework for conducting joint research and technical exchanges and for sharing information and demonstration projects.

Ms. Pan Yingzhen, Director General of the National Bureau to Combat Desertification in the State Forestry Administration and the UNCCD National Focal Point of China, launched the initiative during the global observance of the World Day to Combat Desertification in Beijing, China.

The Silk Road Economic Belt starts from China and runs to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean via Central and West Asia, geographically linking the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe.

Many of the countries along the Belt are affected seriously by desertification, land degradation and drought and traditional and new sources of financing will be needed to deliver on ambition.

Ms Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said through solidarity and engagement China has brought millions of people out of poverty through massive scale land restoration efforts.

She encouraged China to spearhead work in achieving land degradation neutrality and ensure it becomes humanity’s defining achievement in the 21st Century, noting, “it will mark China’s legacy in green development.”

Globally, more than two billion hectares of the terrestrial ecosystems are degraded, with nearly 170 countries affected by land degradation and drought. Scientists are also increasingly concerned about human activities such as mining, infrastructure development and drying water beds that may be contributing to sands and dust storms.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video message to the high-level gathering that was attended by China’s Vice-Premier and 11 ministers and vice-ministers from Africa, Asia and Latin America, said: “Over the next 25 years, land degradation could reduce global food productivity by as much as 12 per cent, leading to a 30 per cent increase in world food prices.

“Without a long-term solution, desertification and land degradation will not only affect food supply but lead to increased migration and threaten the stability of many nations and regions. This is why world leaders made land degradation neutrality one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. That means rehabilitating at least 12 million hectares of degraded land a year.”

Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last September, more than 90 countries have signed up to set their voluntary national targets on land degradation neutrality.

Ms Barbut said: “Actions to avoid, halt and reverse land degradation must begin now with everyone fully engaged. If we procrastinate the prospect of land degradation neutrality grows dimmer. But it shines brighter each time a person or country joins the campaign to restore degraded land or the battle against the degradation of new land.”

During the event, the International Resource Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report titled, Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation systems, strategies and tools, offering tools that can help land users to assess their land potential in order to match it to the best uses.

JAI is linked to the 2030 global target of achieving land degradation neutrality agreed under the Sustainable Development Goals. Through actions that promote healthy and productive land, the initiative also aims to alleviate poverty and improve the livelihoods of the people in the region.

In line with this year’s theme for the World Day to Combat Desertification, a core principle of JAI is “people’s engagement at all levels, in particular land users at community level, in a participatory process.”

With a rallying call to “Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People”, this year’s observance aims to raise public awareness about the urgency for land users to secure productive land by avoiding degrading more land, on the one hand, and rehabilitating and restoring all productive that can be recovered, on the other.

World Day to Combat Desertification is observed every year on 17 June in all countries of the world.

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