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Capturing the Synergies between Climate Change and Desertification



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Siri Eriksen Siri Eriksen defines the opportunities and challenges to be found in linking the climate change and desertification conventions.
The author is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oslo in Norway. Her research focuses on vulnerability to climate stress, adaptation and use of indigenous vegetation resources among populations in eastern and southern Africa.

It makes particular sense to link the climate change and the desertification conventions for three main reasons.

First, many of those most vulnerable to climate change are poor people living in dryland areas. Adaptation measures, as implemented through the National Adaptation Programmes of Action, will necessarily have to focus on drylands, therefore, and dryland concerns will have to play a major role in such measures.

Second, the desertification convention focuses attention on particular development issues, such as strengthening alternative livelihoods in drylands, that in themselves constitute forms of climate adaptation that are increasingly recognized as critical. Existing action plans and interventions related to the desertification convention may provide an entry point to addressing climate change adaptation in a way that is more focused on livelihoods than has so far been the case.

Third, linking the two conventions rather than designing, implementing and managing climate policy separately from ongoing activities to manage desertification makes sense from an efficiency and mainstreaming perspective, in particular, in countries with scarce financial and human resources.

There are, however, several challenges in realizing the undoubted synergies.

Desertification measures focused on improving the drought resistance of agriculture can be integrated in a fairly uncontroversial manner to reduce sensitivity to future climatic change. Other types of desertification measures may, however, prove problematic. For example, the most vulnerable populations in drylands often rely on access to indigenous plant resources to carry out their drought coping strategies, including livestock grazing, food supply and handicrafts. These practices can be considered inappropriate, a tool used by colonial and post-colonial governments to legitimize control over dryland populations and resources, and some desertification measures focus, unwisely, on the absolute protection of vegetation from human activity. Climate adaptation, though, demands support for drought livelihoods through continued, sustainable access to indigenous resources during times of climate stress.

Taking on board climate concerns requires a re-think of measures designed in response to drylands degradation alone.

A second challenge is institutional and financial. Financial mechanisms related to the climate convention provide new and more promising sources of funding than those related to the desertification convention. The types of activities that can be paid for through the climate convention are, however, subject to close scrutiny and this may limit the opportunities to implement measures that focus specifically on strengthening livelihoods. Notwithstanding the relevance to climate adaptation, official development assistance may well become the most appropriate source of funding for actions targeting livelihood security. Coordination of such actions with those funded through the climate convention is critical for effectively mainstreaming climate change actions with dryland livelihood concerns.

Flexibility in thinking, as well as in procedures, will be needed on both sides if the undoubted benefits of coordinated action on climate change and drylands degradation are to be realized.

Further information

Siri Eriksen, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Boks 1096 Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway. Fax: +47-22-855253. Email: s.e.h.eriksen@sgeo.uio.no. Web: www.iss.uio.no/instituttet/ansatte.php?ansatt=sire&language=english.

On the Web

The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary maintains a selected list of websites covering drylands and desertification.

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Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Updated: April 12th 2013