By Nivedita Khandekar
New Delhi, May 29 (IANS) Boosting drought resilience and investing in land restoration for sustainability topped the agenda of global leaders, including Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, attending the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which concluded on May 20.
As many as 38 decisions were taken at this UNCCD COP that was held in the West African country of Cote d'Ivoire. Among them, was an important decision to establish a new Intergovernmental Working Group on Drought during the triennium 2022-2024.
Up to 40 per cent of the land area on earth is degraded and it can, and will, directly affect half of humanity, UN estimates showed. This land degradation is a threat to about 50 per cent of the global GDP. But even when this has been known for quite some time, the countries are nowhere near to the targeted restoration of one billion hectares of degraded land by 2030.
From 1970 to 2019, drought was one of the hazards that led to the largest human losses, with approximately 6,50,000 deaths and among all the climate-related deaths during the same period, more than 90 per cent occurred in developing countries, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) data from 2021 showed.
So, the UN members agreed and committed to accelerate the restoration of one billion hectares of degraded land by 2030, for which, it was agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Working Group on Drought during the triennium 2022-24.
The earlier Intergovernmental Working Group on Drought (IWG) that was established in September 2019 was set up to develop effective policy and implementation measures for addressing drought impact in the context of the UNCCD. 'That IWG presented its findings and recommendations and basically worked at the framework. Now, this IWG will take the matter forward but the manner in which funding is a problem, there is a possibility that UNCCD will need further time beyond 2024,' said an official present at the COP15.
Apart from the Environment Minister, three officers from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), one from the Rural Development Ministry and one officer from ICAR under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare had attended the COP15.
Presenting the opening statements, Morocco, which was speaking for the African group, called for enhanced means of implementation for developing countries. Pakistan, speaking for the Asia-Pacific group of countries, called for increased attention, collaboration, and support to address the trans-boundary issues of drought and sand and duststorms (SDS), and for the UNCCD to take the lead on drought at the global level. Even the G-77/China emphasised the need for concrete commitments from COP15 on drought, including enhanced means of implementation for developing countries.
The Intergovernmental Working Group is tasked with identifying and evaluating all options, including, inter alia, global policy instruments and regional policy frameworks, and linking, where relevant, to national plans, as appropriate, to effectively manage drought under the Convention. 'The best part, if it can be termed so, is that the task force is to support a shift from reactive to proactive drought management by the governments involved,' the official said.
This is an important step as many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved without a proactive fight against drought. The SDGs include those related to poverty, hunger, health, access to water, inequality, climate change, life on earth, etc.
'There were a lot of discussions about the job of the working group, including availability of resources, most important, funding,' said one of the officials who attended the event.
The rich nations, as happens with the climate change COP, are not too willing to open their purse strings here too. Earlier as part of the opening statements, countries/groups of countries had put forth demands for concrete commitments from the core budget of UNCCD. 'Core budget mostly comes from the contributions by all the parties in proportion to their GDPs. There are no concrete promises and no clarity about where the funds would come from,' said another official, on condition of anonymity.
Sooner or later, those countries would need to understand the gravity as even the developed countries are increasingly facing droughts. Exactly what UNCCD executive secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw pointed out in his foreword for the booklet 'Drought in Numbers' released during the UNCCD COP on May 12. Stating that the land is drying up, fertile grounds are turning to dust and drought is prevailing, Thiaw said, 'Droughts are among the greatest threats to sustainable development, especially in developing countries, but increasingly so in developed nations too.'
(Nivedita Khandekar can be reached at )
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