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Link desertification solutions to biodiversity, climate change and water issues, UNEP urges

Dakar/Nairobi, 9 December 1998 - Calling the Convention to Combat Desertification a powerful weapon for reversing dryland degradation, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is encouraging governments to seek synergies between the Convention and other major environmental agreements.

The most effective actions for preventing dryland degradation are often the same actions needed to protect biological diversity or minimize the risk of climate change," said Klaus Toepfer, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNEP.

"By bringing these distinct but interlinked issues together in their national policies, governments can heighten the impact of their national investments while boosting their fund-raising potential," he added.

Ministers and high-level officials attending a meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention here in Dakar are exploring how to promote more financial and technological support to programmes for combatting desertification.

The opportunities provided by this approach are illustrated by the recent decision of the multi-billion-dollar Global Environment Facility (GEF) to fund anti-desertification projects if they also address one of the GEF's four focal areas - biodiversity, climate change, international waters, and ozone depletion.

For example, the GEF is funding a $12.2 million, five-year project to rehabilitate the degraded land along the border between Mauritania and Senegal. This project, which is being implemented by UNEP and the United Nations Development Programme, will seek to protect biodiversity by targeting five critical ecosystems encompassing 60,000 square kilometres.

Another GEF-funded UNEP project will rehabilitate indigenous vegetation in the degraded rangelands of Africa's arid zones, particularly in Botswana, Kenya, and Mali, while yet another will rehabilitate degraded lands and biodiversity in Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

A UNEP/GEF desertification project whose funding depends on climate change benefits is taking place in the pastoral areas of Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Because trees and other plants absorb and store the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere, returning dryland vegetation to health simultaneously enhances "carbon sinks" and thereby reduces climate change.

Another illustration of the policy links between desertification and other environmental issues is the issue of water resources. Several weeks ago, at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, the African Ministers Council on Environment (AMCEN) highlighted the importance of the integrated management of river, lake, and hydrogeological basins to the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification.

The bio-physical processes of biodiversity, climate change and desertification are intimately intertwined.

Climate change will affect the drylands by influencing heat extremes, water supplies, soil humidity and temperature, and agricultural production. It will also threaten biological diversity on land and in the sea.

As climate zones shift poleward during the 21st century, the composition and geographic distribution of ecosystems will change rapidly. Species that cannot migrate and adapt quickly enough will not survive. At the same time, deforestation and dryland degradation are influencing local climates, the global carbon cycle, and the albedo, or reflectivity, of the earth's surface.

Biodiversity and desertification are also related to each other. Dryland degradation affects not only agricultural productivity but natural vegetation, wildlife, and soil fertility. The loss of biodiversity likewise undermines the environmental health of drylands and makes them more vulnerable to human and natural pressures.

Fortunately, the three issues are also linked by common solutions. For example, combating deforestation reduces net carbon dioxide emissions, land degradation, and the loss of biodiversity. Similarly, the introduction of renewable energy technologies can cut greenhouse gas emissions while easing pressure on the land and the forests by providing an alternative to limited fuel wood supplies.

Based on a mandate from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, governments negotiated the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and adopted it in 1994. The Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change were adopted at the Earth Summit. Together, the three treaties are often referred to as the Rio conventions on sustainable development.

UNEP News Release 1998/--

Note to journalists:
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Additional information about UNEP is available at and at .

In Nairobi, please contact Tore J. Brevik,
Director of Information and Public Affairs,
Tel. (254-2) 62-3292, Fax (254-2) 62-3927;
or Patricia L. Jacobs, (254-2) 62-3088, Fax (254-2) 62-3692,

Wednesday 09 Dec 1998
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