COVID-19 stimulus packages could put land restoration efforts at risk
More than 75 percent of Earth's land has degraded because of climate change and overuse, affecting the livelihood of nearly 500 million families. COVID-19 pandemic stimulus packages worth trillions of dollars could lead to more emissions, upsetting global efforts to control desertification and land restoration, warns Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), in an interview with CGTN's environment editor Alok Gupta. Here is an excerpt from the interview.
CGTN: The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, leading to more lockdowns in many parts of the world; how has it impacted global efforts to tackle desertification and droughts?
Thiaw: It has affected in many ways. Poorest communities, including pastoralists, farmers and those who eke out a living from the land, have been hit hard. In addition, the fact that markets are closed and farm produce cannot reach the market because of the lockdowns is having a negative impact on the land.
These disruptions will have a severe impact on small farm producers and may increase migration. However, the possibility of disruption being positive or negative depends on how the industry sector uses COVID-19 economic stimulus packages disbursed to boost the economy. We hope that the private sector utilizes the money to harvest water, forest, and into environmentally friendly ventures.
CGTN: Is there any data available to quantify how much extra land has degraded during the pandemic period?
Thiaw: It's too early to have these global figures. What is more worrying is that only 2.5 percent of trillions of dollars released under stimulus packages are environmentally friendly. As a result, the trajectory of desertification and land degradation that we saw before could worsen if this money is not used carefully.
There could be further disruptions in our efforts to restrict desertification if the recovery packages don't consider environmental concerns, and we may see more forests being depleted and more land being degraded.
CGTN: Has the COVID-19 pandemic led to a change in strategy to deal with desertification and land degradation issue?
Thiaw: In fact, we published a policy paper that argues that land restoration can actually contribute to post-pandemic economic recovery. Apart from contributing to economic recovery, it can also help prevent future pandemics.
Another report which takes into account climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation scenarios finds that the yield from agriculture will reduce further. Under such a business as usual scenario, an additional 300 million hectares of land may be degraded. Still, simple land restoration efforts could reverse the scenario without any technological intervention, which is expensive.
The strategy remains the same, and it's simple, prevent the land from getting degraded to reduce emissions of climate-harming gases and restore degraded land.
CGTN: Do you worry that governments might be allocating more budgets for building health infrastructures in the coming years, cutting down on funds for land restoration?
Thiaw: Clearly, the pandemic has underlined the need for solid health systems. The pandemic has also demonstrated that we should have one health approach for human, animal and ecosystems. Since the SARS-COV-2 virus came from the ecosystem, as suspected by scientists, then we need to keep our ecosystems healthy to prevent future viral transmissions. As we rebuild our economies, we should make sure that we take care of our ecosystems and manage it to prevent another viral outbreak.
CGTN: How will the issue of desertification play out during Global Biodiversity Summit (COP-15) in Kunming, China, in October?
In the post-2020 biodiversity commitment, they have a major target on land. So, we would like to see more commitments to land restoration and more commitments to protected areas from parties attending the summit in Kunming.
We would like to see more commitments for communities working in the agriculture sector, small-hold farmers. There are 500 million small-hold farmers who depend on the land, and their only asset is land.
CGTN: Is the pandemic also affecting the Great Green Wall, one of the most ambitious environmental projects to combat desertification in Africa?
Thiaw: Our partners and donors have pledged $17 billion for the Great Green Wall, which covers the entire breadth of Africa. This project is helping to rebuild the economy of the Sahel region by increasing their resilience, providing green jobs, renewable energy, and also reducing emissions.
We hope that this pledge for financial support materializes soon and preempt a major disaster. If we are not careful, we will witness more civil unrest, irregular migration and natural disasters killing more people and animals in the region.
(Cover: Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.)