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WHERE RAINFORESTS MEET DESERTS Please check against delivery
Key message: Our concerns are two sides of the same coin because as deserts advance, rainforests retreat. People, their basic needs and actions, create the most critical “meeting” point of rainforests and deserts. The world needs a strong alliance between those with a passion for rainforests and those with a passion for dryland ecosystems.
Andrew, Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for inviting me. It is a pleasure and a privilege to address you this evening. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Paul Baker and the Presidents of the Rainforest and Desert Clubs respectively, Mr. Andrew Mitchell and Mr. David Hall for all their hard work on arranging such a pleasant event in this wonderful venue. I would also like to thank Tony Kirkham, Stephen Hopper and Nigel Winser for their engagement and support. All protocols duly observed. The title of my brief speech tonight is: Where Rainforests Meet Deserts Deserts and rainforests are beautiful, majestic places. To state the obvious, they are also very different to each other. While both contain all of the elements needed to support life, the life that thrives in each environment is highly specialized for survival in its respective biome. Despite the physical differences, they (and we) have a lot in common. Indeed Ladies and gentlemen,
Princess of Wales Observatory, Kew Gardens (16/05/2012)
Our concerns and the issues we address are, in fact, 2 sides of the same coin. Forty-two per cent of the Earth's tropical and subtropical forests are dry forests. Certainly, forests are especially critical for the resilience of dryland people and ecosystems. They keep drylands working but are often overlooked.
Furthermore and despite the magnificence of the world’s natural deserts, man-made deserts, created by the process of land degradation and desertification, are far from beautiful. A powerful symmetry exists. If manmade deserts are allowed to advance, rainforests will continue retreating. . Concern for the land and soil, on which rainforests flourish and dryland lives and livelihoods are sustained, should therefore bind us together. We should make common cause on these issues and move beyond our silos, acting boldly and collaboratively to maintain the health and productivity of our interconnected systems. But action is needed now – because people are accelerating change in the system. In our geological age, the Anthropocene, the major cause of change on planet earth is our human activity. Change to the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles. Change to biodiversity and ecosystems’ functions. Change to climate. Depletion of soil’s fertility - the most significant, non-renewable geo-resource we have. Each year, 75 billion tons of fertile soil are lost once for all, it is one of the major causes of land degradation and desertification. As the French writer Chateaubriand once said “Forests precede civilizations deserts follow them.” Civilizations basic needs and actions not only drive this process of change but represent the most critical “meeting” of rainforests and deserts. Humanity is in the driving seat as never before. The direction we steer now will determine our future for generations to come.
To set a sustainable course, we must understand and address the common challenges human civilization has set for us.
The challenges can be represented in fairly fundamental terms. In particular, the security and resilience of food, energy and water systems and the value that humankind places on ecosystems functions and services.
Indeed ladies and gentlemen,
Our starting point is the resilience of food, energy and water systems.
I am sure many of you will know the quotation from Edward Osborne Wilson, the famed American biologist, who said “Destroying rain forest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.” We are approaching a perfect storm where food and energy price rises are driving massive land grabs globally. Most land is being grabbed in the drylands and in the tropical forests –we are burning a valuable painting every night! 70-80% of cropland expansion leads to deforestation. Shockingly, each year, at least 13 million hectares of forest are lost. Almost the same area of productive land (12 million hectares) is lost every year in the drylands; that is the equivalent of 23 hectares, or 20 football pitches, of productive land per minute. Total land degradation now affects more than 1.9 billion hectares of land worldwide. Given growing demand, generated by a global population, expected to hit 9.2 billion by 2050, changing diets and rising incomes and the simultaneous rise in mineral prices, the incentives to deforest and degrade grow stronger almost daily.
Compared to present levels, the demand for food is forecast to grow by 50% and that of energy and water by 40% and 35% respectively, by 2030. Unless degraded land is rehabilitated, forests and other natural lands will have to be converted to make way for agricultural production. By 2030, an estimated 120 million hectares will be needed just to support the required growth for food. That’s a brand new farm the size of South Africa. Pressure on land will result in increasing shortages, which hamper business and economic development, lead to social and geopolitical tensions and cause further environmental damage such as deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change. Difficult land use policy and decisions will have to be made, especially with consideration to synergies and options for trade-offs.
Evidence for policy making is therefore sorely needed. Yet land and soil based ecosystem services are still in something of a blind spot for decision makers at all levels. It is a policy and market failure of epic proportions. Under the prevailing paradigm, forests are cut down because with classical economic analysis they are worth more cleared than standing. Land owners tend to degrade, abandon and migrate, emphasizing economic benefits with the most direct, private value.
We need a paradigm shift that transforms our understanding of the value of land. People must understand that many important benefits are long-term - or go way beyond just the land being managed. Society is not adequately discussing the value of off-site benefits like water and air quality; biodiversity; flow and flood control; sustainability of land productivity and aesthetics, among many others.. Such inadequate consideration leads to a systematic
undervaluation of both ecosystem services and the land itself, especially in policy making. For a true economic valuation of the ecosystem services provided by the land, we need better knowledge regarding the state of land resources and the ecosystem services they provide. But, as Leonardo DaVinci said, around the year 1500, “we know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” His observation is still holds true today. For example soil biodiversity functions and services were to a large extent overlooked by TEEB, the study on the economics of biodiversity. We face an urgent shared challenge to advance our scientific understanding of the economics of sustainable land management and to ensure science is central to building the resilience of communities and ecosystems (especially in the drylands). At the same time, the UNCCD mandatory reporting process using impact indicators agreed by Parties should allow us to see trends and patterns in deforestation, land degradation and restoration as they emerge.
Ladies and gentlemen, joint advocacy will be key to generate the change we are hoping for. With this type of evidence, we should advocate together so that deforestation and land degradation are avoided and that any further degradation of the Earth’s land is balanced by restoration of degraded land and forest. Less pressure on land will lead to less pressure on rainforests. Over the next 30-40 years, we will need to restore more land than we degrade. We must bring degraded land back to life through sustainable land and forestry management techniques. Given the framework of the energy-foodwater nexus, we have to make clear the fundamental linkages between land and forests, agriculture and climate change as well as biodiversity.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to drive converging actions through a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on land. At the upcoming Rio+20 Conference, I will argue the goal of: Sustainable land use for all and by all (in agriculture, forestry, energy, urbanization) is ambitious but attainable. I envisage three targets: o
Target 1: Zero net land degradation by 2030
Target 2: Zero net forest degradation by 2030
Target 3: Drought policies and drought preparedness
implemented in all drought-prone regions/ countries by 2020
We can make rapid progress against all these targets. More than two billion hectares of land worldwide is suitable for rehabilitation through forest and landscape restoration. About 50% of these are in degraded lands – equivalent to over 900 million hectares. Of that 2 billion, 1.5 billion hectares would be best suited to mosaic restoration, in which forests and trees are combined with other land uses, including agroforestry and smallholder agriculture.
Financial incentives and greater ambition will be needed. These incentives will need to address the underlying drivers of deforestation and land degradation. REDD+ strategies are good but do not go far enough. We will need to be visionary and bolder in our ambitions for carbon, land, biodiversity and forest management. Imagine a land restoration program that could simultaneously provide 10% of the climate solution, assist with climate change adaptation, replenish depleted watersheds, reverse desertification, and provide around 100 million hectares of new biodiversity
corridors linking important habitats and ecosystems. These carbon-rich, crosscontinental biodiversity corridors could be focused on degraded land with high biodiversity potential. That is something worth investing in!
Actually, this has already begun in the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor, the Paseo Panthera (Jaguar corridor in Mexico and Central America) and a major Atlantic Forest restoration project in Brazil.
In conclusion, Man-made deserts exist where rainforests and deserts converge. The world needs a strong alliance between those with a passion for rainforests and those with a passion for dryland ecosystems. Human activity has tied the two ecosystems firmly together. As communities of scientists, policy makers and practitioners, we need to jointly make the case, ever more convincingly, for land and forest policy that is evidence based and practice that is sustainable. We must jointly protect the soils - the biological engines of the Earth, essential for the proper functioning of all land including rainforests. Instead of being a cause of degradation, human activity can be a driver of positive change. I believe, eventually, if we are ambitious and vocal enough, people will recognize, and markets can be harnessed to pay for, the ecosystems services we receive from the land, forest and soil. We rely on your expertise in building synergies between rainforest and desert scientists. I look forward to working with you on this. Again, thank you for inviting me to be here tonight!
Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary UNCCD