UNU-FLORES at 13th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD

  • 2017/09/15     Ordos, China

    Image: UNCCD

    By Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Commmunications and Advocacy

    In dryland ecosystems – where water is scarce – changes in land use and climate directly impact soil productivity. Livelihoods depend heavily on the produce of the land; as such scientific guidance and policy support are key to protecting and developing the available resources.

    At the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), state delegations from 196 countries gather in Ordos, China to decide on a global strategy to stop land degradation in the run-up to 2030. UNU-FLORES’s Dr Kai Schwärzel (Head of the Soil and Land-Use Management unit) joined discussions as a member of the United Nations University delegation at the high-level congregation that is taking place from 6 to 16 September 2017.

    Image: UNCCD

    Image: UNCCD

    On 13 September UNU-FLORES also co-organised a side event on “Reversing Land Degradation in Dryland: Lessons, Challenges, and Opportunities from China’s Afforestation Programmes” in the Rio Conventions Pavilion. UNU-FLORES researcher Dr Lulu Zhang (Soil and Land-Use Management unit) opened ‘Synergies Day’ at the Pavilion, during which UNU-FLORES co-convened a panel and launched a book.

    Rio Conventions Pavilion

    The Rio Conventions Pavilion gives Parties, accredited observer organisations, experts, and other stakeholders a chance to exchange information and experiences on different matters related to the objectives of the three Rio Conventions: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).

    The event brought together scientists and policymakers to address land-based adaptation measures implemented in dryland areas. Using China’s afforestation programmes as an example, the panel, consisting of representatives from the provincial government as well as practitioners and implementers, discussed the evolution of China’s environmental protection policies, the impact of these policies on soil/land and water resources, and strategies to revise existing land policies to cope with new challenges.

    Image: UNCCD

    Image: UNCCD

    While much was discussed on preserving forests and soil resources, Schwärzel raised the importance of striking a balance between water and soil conservation. One way of doing it is by using multifunctional forests – the management of which generates joint products. By putting in place measures that minimise water consumption by vegetation, enhance infiltration and deep percolation while mitigating soil erosion, we can achieve benefits across different sectors.

    The panel also elaborated on how political, socioeconomic, and ecological challenges for the implementation of multifunctional forest and land-use systems can be overcome.

    Following the panel discussion, UNU-FLORES welcomed participants to the Asian launch of their book Multifunctional Land-Use Systems for Managing the Nexus of Environmental Resources. Dr Luca Montanarella (European Commission – Joint Research Centre Institute for Environment and Sustainability) introduced the book, after which contributors who were present spoke about their work and took questions from the audience. The book was well-received given that all the copies were snapped up within minutes.

    Image: UNCCD

    Multifunctional Land-Use Systems for Managing the Nexus of Environmental Resources (Springer)

    Based on the outcomes of a Sino-German funded project, the newly published book explores the fundamental question of food and water security in environmental restoration efforts. The overall objective of the project is to improve the capacity in quantifying and assessing the water yield response to changes in climate and land use, most notably vegetation restoration and afforestation. This creates a solid foundation for the integrated management of water and vegetation in vast parts of the Yellow River Basin (northwest China). The book is a first in providing a general overview of Chinese land policy development and implementation and provides new concepts for land policy reform and more sustainable land-use systems for dryland environments.

    The state-of-the-art knowledge on managing soil, water, and forest resources provides relevant information for evaluating existing programmes and informing policymakers. Such a Nexus Approach towards resources management can help to identify challenges, while reviewing incentives and obstacles for the adaptation of sustainable land-use practices and poverty alleviation at different levels, in turn shedding light on the critical linkages to reinforce responsible governance of land resources.

    Land degradation is a threat to global food and water security. For a country that is producing a fifth of the world’s food supply, it is encouraging that activities enhancing the ability of national governments to achieve SDG 15 (Life on land) and simultaneously ensure human wellbeing, food, and water security as well as healthy ecosystems are taking place in China.

    This is the first time China is hosting a COP of any kind. Reversing land degradation can boost soil productivity for food security and increase resilience of dryland areas and rural population to climate change. The high-level discussion on this topic may help to accelerate the needed change in China’s afforestation strategy.