Tiempo Climate Newswatch
2006: International Year of Deserts and Desertification
The Blue Carbon Portal brings together the latest knowledge and resources on the role of oceans as carbon sinks.
WalkIt provides walking routes between user-defined points in selected British cities, with an estimate of the carbon savings.
Joto Afrika is a series of printed briefings and online resources about adapting to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa.
The CoolClimate Art Contest presents iconic images that address the impact of climate change.
About the Cyberlibrary
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary was developed by Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich on behalf of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development, with sponsorship from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
While every effort is made to ensure that information on this site, and on other sites that are referenced here, is accurate, no liability for loss or damage resulting from use of this information can be accepted.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was adopted in 1994. Twelve years on and land degradation and advancing deserts constitute a worldwide environmental and humanitarian crisis. It is in recognition of this major threat to humanity that the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2006 to be the International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD).
Preparations for the International Year were discussed at the Seventh Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD, held in October 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya. The meeting was attended by delegates representing the 191 countries party to the Convention. The Convention is the only internationally recognized and legally binding instrument that addresses the problem of land degradation and desertification. Full attendance from the global community was seen as vital in order to assess progress made over the past decade in addressing drought and desertification as well as effectively formulating plans and strategies over the coming years.
In his opening speech at the high-level segment of the UNCCD meeting, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, voiced his concern that there was a need to move from talk to action in order to effectively deal with this global problem. He warned that "land degradation and desertification are without question among the central issues facing the international community if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals and achieve a just, healthier and more stable world. The world's soils are in some ways unique. You can clean up a river or the air, but cleaning up soils is far more difficult. If you lose soils, it can take centuries if not longer to replace them."
According to the UNCCD Secretariat, desertification and drought cause an estimated loss of US$42 billion a year in the agricultural sector. Desertification and drought contribute to food insecurity, famine and poverty and can give rise to social, economic and political tensions that can cause conflicts, further impoverishment and further land degradation.
The African continent suffers the most from the impacts of desertification. Two-thirds of the land mass is classified as desert or drylands and, although there are extensive areas under agriculture, almost three-quarters of these drylands are already degraded to some degree. The entire drylands region is afflicted by frequent and severe droughts, whilst many of the dryland nations are landlocked, have widespread poverty, need external assistance and depend heavily on natural resources for subsistence. At present, almost half (46 per cent) of Africa's land area is vulnerable to desertification.
In terms of the number of people affected by desertification and drought, though, Asia is the most severely affected continent. The vast land mass has a total land area of 4.3 billion hectares of which 1.7 billion hectares, stretching from the Mediterranean coast to the shores of the Pacific, are classed as arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions. Expanding deserts are affecting China, India, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Syria, Nepal and People's Democratic Republic of Lao. The causes of this severe land degradation vary from nation to nation, for example, including steeply-eroded mountain slopes in Nepal and deforestation and overgrazing of highlands in the People's Democratic Republic of Lao, but the resulting impacts remain similar.
Focus of the International Year
In designating 2006 as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification the United Nations has provided the world with a united objective to curb desertification around the globe and to work collectively towards substantially reducing its overwhelming environmental, social and economic costs.
Countries and communities around the world have activities and initiatives planned to raise awareness and to highlight the many additional issues arising from the impacts of desertification that affect both the environment and humanity. "I look forward to working with governments, civil society, the private sector, international organizations and others to focus attention on this crucial issue and to make every day one on which we work to reverse the trend of desertification and set the world on a safer, more sustainable path of development," said Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Two main issues arising directly from the impacts of desertification will be focused on throughout the year. One is the need to recognize that desertification and related environmental degradation are directly linked to ever-increasing poverty, hunger and forced migration. Prior to the Nairobi meeting, Hama Arba Diallo, the UNCCD's Executive Secretary, observed that desertification is now considered to be the most threatening ecosystem change that has a direct impact on the poor stating that, "the fight against desertification is fundamentally a fight against poverty."
The other main issue focuses on the link between desertification and the world's ecosystems and the need to protect and maintain biodiversity in the arid lands that cover one-third of the planet.
One of the three honorary spokespersons designated for the year, Chérif Rahmani, Environment Minister of Algeria, addressing a side event at the United Nations General Assembly in November 2005, noted that the International Year presented an opportunity to highlight the issues and raise awareness of desertification and its related impacts. We must use this opportunity to "protect the biological diversity, knowledge and traditions of affected communities living in the desert," he said. "We want to raise awareness at the international, regional, national and local level about the deserts," he continued. "Desertification is a transnational issue and a global problem."
The other two honorary spokespersons for the year are the Nobel Peace Laureate, Wangari Maathai of Kenya, and the Bulgarian international football star, Hristo Stoitchkov. At various venues and special events throughout the world, it is planned that the honorary spokespersons will speak of and highlight not only the serious problems for humanity associated with desertification but also that deserts, home to many of the world's oldest and most vibrant civilizations, are important and unique ecosystems that cannot be lost.
Stoitchkov committed himself at the side event to "promoting this message amongst future generations and particularly through soccer, probably the single most powerful and fraternal sport in the world that resonates among nations and brings people together." A major football match is planned between players from Europe and affected countries, particularly from Africa.
One of the first formal activities of the International Year was an international meeting with selected intergovernmental, governmental and non-governmental organizations in Rome, Italy. The workshop was organized by the UNCCD Secretariat in collaboration with the Italian Association of Non-Governmental Organizations and was supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The working title of the workshop was Combating Desertification and Poverty in Drylands: Promoting Decentralized Cooperation and the Participation of Civil Society in Implementation of the UNCCD. This is a continuation of an Italian initiative which was launched at the end of 2004 and is aimed at raising awareness and promoting the role of civil society and regional governments in assisting developing country Parties in the implementation of their National Action Programmes.
Italy will also be hosting another of the year's special events that has been planned to coincide with the World Day to Combat Desertification on June 17th 2006. Under the patronage of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, a five-day film festival will take place in Rome. The festival, called Desert Nights, will feature documentaries, films and real-life stories of people and communities in drylands. There will be five awards presented to the best fiction films from countries affected by desertification within the five regions of the UNCCD - Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Northern Mediterranean.
Each year on June 5th activities around the globe are undertaken to commemorate World Environment Day. The United Nations Environment Programme has designated the theme for 2006 to be Deserts and Desertification, with the slogan "Don't Desert Drylands!" Major international celebrations will be held in Algeria, alongside thousands of other events worldwide.
Amongst the many international events that will take place through 2006, there are a number of conferences and symposiums that will discuss strategies to deal with specific issues related to desertification and its impacts. For example, in April, in Geneva, Switzerland, there will be an IYDD Symposium on Combating Desertification, Hunger and Poverty. In May, in Beijing, China, there will be an international conference on Women and Desertification and in September, in Nairobi, Kenya, a scientific conference on Environmental Arid Lands Management and the Millennium Development Goals will be held.
In December 2006, the Government of Algeria will host the final formal event of the International Year with a Summit Meeting of Heads of State. The theme will be "Desertification, Migration and Security".
It is hoped that with the support and commitment of governments, international organizations and the global community, 2006 will end with strategies developed for reducing and dealing with desertification greatly strengthened.
Effective mechanisms encompassing trade, poverty reduction, equity and sustainable development need to be implemented immediately if the global community is sincerely intent on not only reducing this global crisis but also on having any possibility of reaching the Millennium Development Goals.
On the Web
General Electric plans to cut solar installation costs by half
Project 90 by 2030 supports South African school children and managers reduce their carbon footprint through its Club programme
Bath & North East Somerset Council in the United Kingdom has installed smart LED carriageway lighting that automatically adjusts to light and traffic levels
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Public Gardens Association are mounting an educational exhibit at Longwood Gardens showing the link between temperature and planting zones
The energy-efficient Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers hotel is powered by renewable and sustainable sources, including integrated solar photovoltaics and guest-powered bicycles
El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands, plans to generate 80 per cent of its energy from renewable sources
The green roof on the Remarkables Primary School in New Zealand reduces stormwater runoff, provides insulation and doubles as an outdoor classroom
The Weather Info for All project aims to roll out up to five thousand automatic weather observation stations throughout Africa
SolSource turns its own waste heat into electricity or stores it in thermal fabrics, harnessing the sun's energy for cooking and electricity for low-income families
The Wave House uses vegetation for its architectural and environmental qualities, and especially in terms of thermal insulation
The Mbale compost-processing plant in Uganda produces cheaper fertilizer and reduces greenhouse gas emissions
At Casa Grande, Frito-Lay has reduced energy consumption by nearly a fifth since 2006 by, amongst other things, installing a heat recovery system to preheat cooking oil
Tiempo Climate Newswatch