As it faces extreme heat, long-lasting drought, and miserable harvests, much of Africa is on the frontline of desertification. The economic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis and the war in Ukraine are only making things worse. This is the emergency unfolding as heads of state meet in Abidjan at the United Nations’ 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) over the next ten days.
Desertification is advancing throughout the world and the demand for food is becoming increasingly urgent as arable land loss is accelerating at more than 30 times its historical observed rate. According to the UN, 12 million hectares of land – close to the surface area of Greece – is lost to desertification each year. The production potential of 20 million tons of grain is lost this way, impacting 1.5 billion people whose situation is already precarious. The monetary loss amounts to at least $124 billion.
Protecting ecosystems to combat desertification
Poorly managed agricultural intensification, overgrazing by livestock, deforestation, and poor land-management practices are largely to blame. The COP15 to Combat Desertification aims to help those suffering from this catastrophe to develop actions in response. Some of the answers are not hard to find: drought management, land restoration, land rights, resource preservation, gender equality, as well as youth empowerment. The Abidjan COP will cover seven topics and actions to take against these multiple challenges.
First of all, the Abidjan COP will reflect on the role of green finance in preserving ecosystems, to help prepare the future global agreement on biodiversity. This will be a key theme of the conference, along with that of pooling biodiversity data. AFD Group is actively supporting this approach via initiatives such as Data4Nature, to help measure the financial risks related to ecosystem degradation and to develop common measurement indicators.
Negotiation of the Global Biodiversity Framework 2020-2030-2050 is also expected to be an important topic at this conference. Its aim is to reduce and then neutralize the impact of the economy on biodiversity. AFD Group is working on this issue and making private investment flows align with nature-friendly economic and social activities.
This COP will also be a chance to assess the Convention’s 2018-2030 strategic framework, take stock of progress so far, and set negotiation timetables for setting up a drought protocol. France and AFD will take part in discussions with the main national, regional and civil society stakeholders, to address financing economic activities, land management, women’s empowerment, sustainable use of land, and renewed forms of production and consumption.
See also: €1 Billion for Biodiversity
Preservation of biodiversity will be linked to the protection of the oceans. The COP15 marks the start of negotiations on the future global agreement on biodiversity, which aims to put 30% of the oceans under protection. But protecting nature implies a big social, human, cultural impact, as well as an impact on local development. To anticipate and avoid possible abuses, one theme will be devoted to the relationship between the defense of nature and respect for human rights.
With some of the planet still in the grip of the Covid-19 crisis, another hot topic will be the degradation of ecosystems and the emergence of pandemics. The idea is to establish the interdependence between the health of human beings and that of animals and ecosystems. AFD applies this approach, called “One Health,” through an integrated process that explores the relationship between ecosystem degradation and the outbreak of pandemics.
Likewise related to globalization is the topic of fighting imported deforestation. One third of the Earth’s deforested surfaces are a result of plantations for producing export products such as palm oil and soy. AFD Group is working to combat this trend by implementing France’s national strategy for fighting imported deforestation.
Promoting inclusive and fair social solutions
AFD Group will attend this COP15 armed with innovative approaches and solutions that address food security, as well as the security of the environment and human rights.
Given the drastic consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for food security in Africa, AFD and France will, for example, put forward the Food & Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) initiative for food security in the most vulnerable countries. Announced by the French President on March 24, with partners from the European Union, the G7, and the African Union, the aim of FARM is to minimize the effects of the war on global food security. But the effects are already plain to see. As production of cereals (especially wheat) plummets, prices continue to soar with grave implications for access to healthy food.
To counteract the causes of food shortages, AFD is one of the partners behind the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund, which helps reduce private investment risk, thereby attracting more private capital for projects benefiting the environment, biodiversity, and sustainable agriculture.
The Abidjan COP15 will devote a day to the most illustrative initiative to combat desertification, the Great Green Wall (GGW). Since its launch in 2007, the GGW has helped restore nearly 20 million hectares of degraded land in the Sahel and created 350,000 jobs, thanks to the mobilization of more than €2.5 billion by its international partners. COP15 should also propel the new impetus that the One Planet Summit in Paris in January 2021, gave to the GGW initiative by helping mobilize nearly €14 billion in additional international financing by 2025.
For its part, AFD has committed €600 million for GGW implementation in the Sahel, in order to promote nature-friendly social and economic solutions and resilience. This commitment promotes convergence between the GGW objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals that guide AFD Group’s action.
COP convergence on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification
France and AFD will stress at the COP their investment strategies for financing agroecological solutions that are social, inclusive, and fair. The idea is to work closely with the research world to promote food autonomy by developing sustainable agricultural value chains. This will contribute to the development of rural areas and to the management of natural resources; provide support for sustainable practices in pastoralism – an essential economic activity for the Sahel – and promote renewable energies in the region.
The solutions must simultaneously be neutral in carbon impact and restorative for the most fragile soils and ecosystems in arid and semi-arid areas. These efforts are aimed at combating soil erosion and reconstituting its carbon stocks, finding substitutes for firewood, securing land tenure and management of the commons, and creating sustainable jobs in food production and processing.
The Abidjan COP intends to use a holistic and multidisciplinary approach in fighting land degradation as a way to unite the themes from the three Rio conventions (the climate and biodiversity COPs since 1992). Such convergence will promote nature-based solutions, geographical prioritization, and the restocking and rebuilding of natural capital. These efforts must be backed up by the reform of value chains and of modes of production and consumption. In short, the Abidjan COP15 must imagine a social, inclusive, and fair post-crisis world that is simultaneously neutral in carbon, positive for nature, and restorative for the most fragile soils and ecosystems.