This year’s theme for the World Day to Combat Desertification is “Forests Keep Drylands Working”.
A theme relevant to the 2011 UN International Year of Forests and a theme that speaks to the crucial and inseparable link between these two ecosystems in terms of lives and livelihoods and the urgent need to fight poverty.
Today, some 18% of the global dryland system is occupied by forests and woodland. Half of the world's livestock lives off arid zone forests and many of the 2 billion people who live in the world's drylands depend on these forests for their food and energy needs.
But the value of arid zone forests is often underestimated and as a result, the policy incentives required to sustainably conserve and manage these forests are underdeveloped.
UNEP has identified forests and forestry as one of 10 key sectors that, with the right kind of public policies and strategic investments, will be central to a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy.
An economy just as important to someone living in the drylands of Africa, Asia or Mesoamerica as it is to someone bordering the deserts of Australia or living in parts of Arizona or the northern Mediterranean.
The analysis indicates that investing an additional US$40 billion a year in the forestry sector could halve deforestation rates by 2030, increase rates of tree planting by around 140 per cent by 2050 and catalyze the creation of millions of new jobs.
Meanwhile such an investment—amounting to around 0.034 per cent of global GDP—could also remove or ‘sequester’ an extra 28 per cent of carbon from the atmosphere.
Extending forest cover can play an essential role in stabilizing soil and improving water supplies while also recycling nutrients vital for agricultural productivity—they represent, alongside other natural or nature-based assets, in some cases up to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor.
The World Day to Combat Desertification comes just under 12 months in advance of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (known as Rio+20) taking place in Brazil next June.
Two decades after the Earth Summit of 1992, that established the desertification convention alongside those covering climate and biodiversity and the UN Forum on Forests, the world will reconvene.
A Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is one of the two themes and a central opportunity to evolve the sustainable development agenda onto a decisive, more action-focused footing.
Over the past few decades, many inspiring projects and initiatives have flourished in drylands as a result of the efforts of national and international organizations and institutions including the United Nations.
For example, in China’s Loess Plateau, which has been degraded by decades of deforestation and unsustainable farming, around US$ 520 million was invested by the International Development Association and others to regenerate the ecosystem and the many services it provided. These investments helped to reduce sediment loads into the Yellow River by around 100 million tones per year, reducing both flood risks and the cost of maintaining dams. The investment also brought positive impacts on livelihoods, through increased crop yields and employment.
New and transformational pathways are also emerging from payments for ecosystem services to paying communities under the carbon markets for farming methods, including agroforestry, that not only restore degraded land, improve yields but also soak up carbon from the atmosphere.
UNEP and the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) are designing a project which seeks to increase political attention and financing for sustainable forest management in low forest cover countries. The project aims to improve understanding of the main obstacles and challenges in financing sustainable forest management and to develop better governance frameworks for financing forest management and the valuable ecosystem services that forests provide.
UNEP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) are also running a project to help improve the management of land between Nigeria and Niger, to avoid desertification and the degradation of local ecosystems.
Smart public policies, able to trigger international assistance and private sector support, will be among the key to assisting smallholder farmers become part of a Green Economy path.
Rio+20 is an opportunity to scale-up and to accelerate these transformations in communities and countries.
By 17 June 2012, people across the globe will know whether more than 190 governments meeting in Brazil found that sense of leadership that made 1992 a landmark event in terms of vision and international cooperation including on the desertification challenge.
By 17 June 2012, the world will know whether that paradigm shift has been made towards a more secure and sustainable future for nearly seven billion people, including the two billion living in drylands and the 1.6 billion who depend on forests.
Notes to Editors
UN Convention to Combat Desertification: http://www.unccd.int
For more information, please contact:
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, Tel. +254 733 632755, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bryan Coll, UNEP Newsdesk, Tel. +254 207623088, E-mail: email@example.com