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Desertification, Climate Change and the Developing World
Alex Steffen, 3 Jul 07
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That climate change seems likely to hurt worst those who have contributed least to its creation is a bitter irony. That is, however, exactly the reality we can expect, as poor people in low-lying countries and in arid regions are forced into desperation and conflict. Indeed, a new UNEP report explicitly links the genocide in Darfur to climate change, and warns that the instability environmental decline is producing could lead to "a world going up in flames."

That's bad news. But a new report from the United Nations University highlights just how particularly vulnerable people living in dry-lands regions are:

Desertification — land degradation in arid and semi-arid areas — is a pressing global environmental challenge, currently affecting an estimated 100-200 million people. One-third of all people on Earth — about 2 billion in number — are potential victims. Desertification could bring about mass migration as people are forced to leave lands that can no longer support them, posing an "imminent threat to international stability", according to the report's authors.

What if it turns out, though, that combatting desertification and reducing the impacts of climate change are goals that fit perfectly well together?

That may not be such a pipe dream. It may well be that growing carbon-fixing crops as green belts to check the spread of deserts is a winning strategy:

The report also calls for more work to explore the links between desertification, climate change and biodiversity, such as carbon sequestration — the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with plant growing — in drylands to help reverse climate change and simultaneously combat desertification.

What makes it more likely to succeed, perhaps, is the increased understanding in wealthy nations that supporting development in poorer countries that helps fight climate change is in everyone's interest. Already, the clean development mechanism offers one way to make carbon-fixation in the developing world more profitable. But I've been hearing more and more talk in the halls of the conferences I attend (and from the diplomats and international bureaucrats I've talked with) about the idea that a more explicit effort to link development, anti-desertification efforts and carbon sequestration ought to be included in the next global climate agreement (or "Bali" as the shorthand goes, instead of "Kyoto").

In particular, it seems like the Sahel could prove fertile ground for such efforts. For one thing, we suspect the changes in the Sahel to be particularly extreme; for another, there are already some amazing pilot efforts underway there to build greenbelts and preserve farmland. Research into turning hard-hit fallow lands into carbon forests shows promise. In addition, many of the world's future refugees are expected to come from the region, so working now to preserve people's livelihood has an air of preventive medicine to it. Why plant a billion trees to help refugees, when we might plant a billion trees to save communities... and cool the planet in the process?

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Planting trees seems always like a good idea, but don't forget it's all temporary sequestration, as the trees will soon be chopped down and burned.
Examples are of green belts (Niger if i remember) chopped down for cooking.
These initiatives must be backed up with the distribution of solar cooker and the education of people to not burn wood but instead builds things with it.
Forests enemy is not man but poverty and ignorance.

Posted by: litteuldav on 4 Jul 07

Here's an opportunity to give just a little to make a large humanitarian and environmental impact:

The solar cooker project for darfur

Posted by: Jessica on 5 Jul 07

Right here in the US we have millions living the American consumer lifestyle in deserts and semi-arid regions - most of which are now experiencing scorching heat waves. One wonders at what point in the future we'll see crises of water supply and weather that will mark the reclaiming of that land (Phoenix, Las Vegas, LA) by the original deserts.

Will there ever be massive tree planting surrounding Las Vegas? Will we ever feel compelled to model behaviors prescribed for poorer regions? Hope so.

Posted by: Cliff on 6 Jul 07

We are already seeing water crises as human populations outpace the ability of the environment to feed, shelter, and water them at a sustainable rate. Of note, check out the current once-in-a-century drought in the Southeastern USA, along with the drought along much of the West Coast USA. I wonder at the lack of foresight in buying real estate, for instance, in the areas of the US that are projected to get hotter and that are already now only habitable with significant energy resources used for cooling; Palm Springs, for instance.

Posted by: James Lovette-Black on 7 Jul 07



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