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UN talks to tackle degraded land ‘emergency’ begin

ABIDJAN (AFP) – United Nations (UN) talks to tackle desertification and land degradation that have devastated large swathes of Africa began in Ivory Coast on Monday, as climate change wreaks havoc on the continent.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), involving 196 countries plus the European Union (EU), is meeting for the first time in three years, in Abidjan.

Decades of unsustainable agriculture have depleted soils worldwide and accelerated both global warming and species loss, the UNCCD said, with an estimated 40 per cent of land degraded globally.

“Our summit is taking place in the context of the climate emergency which harshly impacts our land management policies and exacerbates drought,” Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara announced.

“Our people put great hope in us. We don’t have the right to disappoint them. Let us act swiftly, let us act together to give new life to our lands,” he urged.

Nine African heads of states including Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Niger’s Mohamed Bazoum and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi were among the continent’s leaders listening to the Ivorian host.

Bazoum spoke of “agricultural yields that fall from year to year”, while Tshisekedi pointed to “the lengthening of the dry seasons” and “the advance of the Sahara and Kalahari deserts” on the continent.

Ouattara presented the Abidjan Legacy Program to raise USD1.5 billion over five years to restore Ivory Coast’s “degraded forest eco-systems” and promote sustainable soil management.

The African Development Bank and the EU are among the main donors to the project.

Ivory Coast is among numerous African nations badly affected by desertification. Forest cover has fallen by 80 per cent since 1900 – from 16 million hectares to just 2.9 million last year.

“At the current rate, our forest could totally disappear by 2050,” Ouattara warned.

The 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15), is due to hear new proposals to try to halt the spread of desertification and deteriorating land quality.

The talks run until May 20.

The conference will pay particular attention to the restoration of one billion hectares of degraded land by 2030, future-proofing land use and drought resilience, the UNCCD said.

Debate is expected to include the question of the “Great Green Wall” scheme to restore 100 million hectares of arid land from Senegal in the west of Africa to Djibouti in the east by 2030.