Land Restoration and Climate-Smart Agriculture Initiatives Showcased in Marrakech
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Side events to the Marrakech Climate Change Conference highlighted initiatives to advance research, knowledge sharing, policy coherence and funding for land-based adaptation and mitigation.

These events featured funding announcements for national land degradation neutrality (LDN) voluntary targets; a global initiative to protect peatlands; international research collaboration on sand and dust storms; climate-smart agriculture programmes; and new information tools to strengthen agriculture resilience and drylands restoration in Africa and Asia.

17 November 2016: Diverse events on the sidelines of the Marrakech Climate Change Conference highlighted initiatives to advance research, knowledge sharing, policy coherence and funding for land-based adaptation and mitigation.

These events featured: funding announcements for national land degradation neutrality (LDN) voluntary targets; a global initiative to protect peatlands; international research collaboration on sand and dust storms; climate-smart agriculture programmes; and new information tools to strengthen agriculture resilience and drylands restoration in Africa and Asia.

One year following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 102 Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) have embarked on national processes to set voluntary targets to LDN, one of the targets under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 (Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss). The 15th session of the UNCCD’s Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC), which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2015, highlighted their experiences to date.

Prior to CRIC 15, representatives of participating countries met to develop a road map for the implementation of their LDN targets and identify actions to harness the finance that LDN is attracting, including from the private sector. Discussions at CRIC 15 highlighted the role of LDN in, inter alia: advancing food security, poverty eradication and resilience to climate change; catalyzing the synergistic implementation of the three Rio Conventions (the UNFCCC, UNCCD and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); and opening opportunities to scale financing for the UNCCD’s implementation, including through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the private sector. [GM Press Release on LDN Discussions at CRIC 15] [UNCCD/Global Mechanism Report on LDN Target Setting: Follow Up and Opportunities for Pilot Countries] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Lessons from LDN Target Setting]

In Marrakech, the French Government was among new partners that announced contributions to the LDN Fund, a public-private partnership for blended finance that aims to channel investments into sustainable land management (SLM) and land restoration projects worldwide, while promoting environmental and social safeguards. With a minimum target investment of US$300 million, the LDN Fund is co-managed by the Global Mechanism (GM) of the UNCCD and private investment firm Mirova with support from the European Investment Bank (EIB), among other institutional investors. Once fully developed, the LDN Fund will incorporate a Technical Assistance Facility (TAF) to help scale-up projects, make them investment-ready, and support collaborative pilot projects among all stakeholders.

UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut stressed that without urgent action to support the resilience of Africa’s smallholder farmers, the region will only be able to meet 13% of its food demands by 2050.

The LDN Fund also launched a partnership with the Initiative for the Adaptation of African Agriculture to Climate Change (AAA), a Moroccan-led initiative launched in April 2016 that promotes and fosters the implementation of specific projects to improve soil management, agricultural water control, climate risk management and capacity building, and funding solutions targeting African smallholder farmers. With initial funding from Group Crédit Agricole du Maroc, the AAA initiative will help identify potential investments for the LDN Fund project, while providing a framework for strengthening cooperation and coordination among project developers, local communities and public institutions. One of the early initiatives of the partnership will be to set up argan orchards in Morocco’s degraded areas and to structure a supply chain that reverses desertification and supports sustainable land management (SLM). Speaking during the signing ceremony, UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut stressed that without urgent action to support the resilience of Africa’s smallholder farmers, the region will only be able to meet 13% of its food demands by 2050. [GM Press Release on AAS-LDN Fund Collaboration] [GM Press Release on President Hollande’s Announcement] [GM Press Release on Public Consultation on LDN Fund Environment and Social Standards]

During the First Africa Action Summit, held on 16 November 2016, African Heads of States in Marrakech agreed to speed up the implementation of initiatives critical to their countries’ development. These initiatives feature actions focused on a large-scale land restoration and rehabilitation, such as the newly launched Security, Stability and Sustainability (3S) Initiative, adopted at a ministerial meeting held on 14 November and led by the Senegalese Presidency of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the UNFCCC COP 22 Presidency. The Initiative aims to forge an approach to addressing the root causes of emerging threats to the “3S” of Africa by: preventing climate change risks from becoming disasters; creating wealth by restoring land and livelihoods; and building resilience among people and communities. Africa’s flagship Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, another focal point, aims to restore the productivity and vitality of the Sahel region, whilst “growing solutions” to the Continent’s most urgent development challenges. [UNCCD Press Release]

At an event at the African Union Pavilion, held on the theme ‘Resilient Landscapes in Africa’s Drylands: Seizing Opportunities and Deepening Commitments,’ partners in the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and Sahel initiative launched a new map depicting restoration opportunities to combat climate change in the region. Experts estimate that to halt and reverse land degradation, some ten million hectares must be restored each year. The map is based on the Global Drylands Assessment, conducted by FAO and its partners from 2015-2016, which estimated that 166 million hectares of the Great Green Wall area offer opportunities for restoration projects. The project analyzed 63,000 half-hectare sample plots spread across drylands in North Africa, Sahel, and the Horn using FAO’s Open Foris Collect Earth tool and extremely high resolution satellite images from Google Earth Engine and Bing Maps. The Great Green Wall covers both arid and semi-arid areas in the north and south ends of the Sahara Desert, consisting of 780 million hectares and inhabited by 232 million people. [FAO Press Release]

At a related side event on ‘Planning for Africa’s Sustainable Soil Management,’ discussions noted that while agriculture accounts for between 30 and 40% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP), food productivity is plagued by soil degradation, with climate change threatening to cause the loss of up to two-thirds of Africa’s arable lands by 2025. Highlighting some of the constraining factors in sustainable soil management, Tekalign Mamo, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) Global Ambassador for the 2015 International Year of Soils and expert from the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, noted that while there have been international efforts by FAO and ISRC-World Soil Information to produce soil maps, Africa lacks a continent-wide soil mapping and information database. Ethiopia was cited as one of the few African countries that has successfully completed mapping and characterizing most of its arable soils, and is successfully applying the information to develop fertilizer management strategies at district and sub-district levels. Along with nutrient management, the meeting stressed the critical role of conservation agriculture in naturally restoring soil health.

At the close of the session, participants agreed on a set of key outcomes that will inform the AAA Initiative, including: consolidating and centralizing soil maps and databases into a single point source, ‘Soil Information System for Africa,’ to help in targeting interventions, making strategic decisions on fertilizer inputs, and ensuring optimal management of soil resources; developing benchmarks for soil organic carbon across Africa to guide effective restoration of soil health, and meet targets in carbon sequestration and advancing food and nutritional security under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); developing a toolkit for sustainable management of soils; and increasing investments and promoting supportive institutional mechanisms to “pay for” African soils’ ecosystem services to the world. The meeting proposed policy reform and smart incentives that reward farmers for contributing to global climate change mitigation through improved soils as possible intervention areas in the implementation of AAA. [ICARDA Press Release on COP 22 Event on Managing Africa’s Soils: The Road to Adaptation & Mitigation]

The Climate Change Conference also saw the launch of the Global Peatlands Initiative, spearheaded by the UN Environment Programme (UN Environment) and upwards of 12 partners. Launched at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), the Initiative will mobilize governments, international organizations and academia to increase the conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of peatlands in countries with significant peat deposits. A UN Environment report highlighted the rise in peat fires in Indonesia and the Russian Federation due to conversion for palm oil and pulp wood production. It noted that recent fires in Indonesia alone have resulted in greater emissions than those released by the entire US economy, while also causing almost 100,000 deaths from the toxic haze and US$16.1 billion in economic damage. During the launch event, UN Environment’s Executive Director Erik Solheim stressed that despite the Paris Agreement, global temperatures will rise over three degrees Celsius this century. He urged action to avoid reaching the tipping point that will impact on the carbon sequestration functions of peatlands, which store almost 100 times more carbon than forests. [UN Press Release]

Another side event convened by UN Environment and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted findings from a recent UN Environment global assessment on sand and dust storms. Gary Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator in Iran, described the drivers of sand and dust storms as a combination of anthropogenic causes, notably land and water management and climate change, such as hotter and drier weather. He stressed a growing international consensus on the need to address the issue, including through the General Assembly Resolution 70/195, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Resolution 72/7, and UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) Resolution 2/21. In her remarks, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark highlighted losses of up to US$13 billion in GDP in the Middle East and North Africa region alone. She outlined four areas of increased cooperation at the global and regional levels as called for in the UN Environment report, namely: development of early warning systems and the sharing of climate and weather information; promotion of measures to mitigate the worst adverse health effects of sand and dust storms where and when they happen; scoping of effective preventive measures; and research on how these storms may impact our atmosphere, climate, and oceans in the future. [UN Iran Press Release] [UNDP Press Release]

Other studies presented on the sidelines of the Marrakech Climate Change Conference highlighted climate assessments by the CGIAR Consortium’s International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). These provide policy-relevant information to strengthen the resilience of the agricultural sector in Central Asia. They provide assessments of farm-level climate change impacts on three strategic crops – cotton, potatoes, and wheat – that are crucial for rural economies and food security across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The resulting climate change scenarios suggest that the regional impacts of climate change will vary, depending on socio-economics and agro-ecological characteristics. [ICARDA Press Release]


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