European Court of Auditors Assesses EU Strategy to Combat Desertification
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
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The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has launched an assessment of the EU’s plans to combat desertification to determine “whether the risk of desertification in the EU is being effectively and efficiently addressed".

EU countries considered to be most at risk of desertification are Spain, southern Portugal, southern Italy, south-eastern Greece, Cyprus and areas of Bulgaria and Romania bordering the Black Sea.

31 January 2018: The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has launched an assessment of the EU’s plans to combat desertification to determine “whether the risk of desertification in the EU is being effectively and efficiently addressed.” The first desertification audit will cover Cyprus, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain, which are among 12 European Member States listed as “affected countries” under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The audit is part of the ECA work programme for 2018, which covers, among other issues, the sustainable use of natural resources, growth and inclusion, and migration and global development challenges.

The UNCCD defines desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.” In its announcement, the ECA highlighted that desertification “is a result, but also a cause of climate change,” due to unsustainable land management practices that cause land to lose its capacity to stock carbon and hence absorb lower volumes of greenhouse gases. The negative impacts of desertification on food production, health, soil fertility, biodiversity, and the loss of livelihoods “which can cause the affected people to migrate,” were further noted.

EU countries considered to be most at risk of desertification are Spain, southern Portugal, southern Italy, south-eastern Greece, Cyprus and areas of Bulgaria and Romania bordering the Black Sea. The ECA announcement cited research indicating that up to 44% of Spain, 33% of Portugal, and nearly 20% of Greece and Italy are at high risk of soil erosion.

EU funding for desertification projects comes from a variety of sources, including the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the LIFE Programme (the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental and climate action projects) and various EU research programmes.

The UNCCD’s Regional Implementation Annex IV, which covers the Northern Mediterranean region, comprises 12 affected country members and three observer countries. The Regional Implementation Annex text notes that while the Mediterranean vegetation is well adapted to the dry conditions and recovers well from droughts, floods and fires, the region is also vulnerable to land degradation and desertification in croplands, rangelands and woodland areas. [ECA Press Release on Desertification Audit] [ECA Press Release on 2018 Work Programme] [UNCCD Press Release] [UNCCD Regional Implementation Annex IV – Northern Mediterranean]

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