Interactive Panel Discussion II
In the second interactive panel, co-chaired by Heinz Fischer, President of Austria, and Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, delegates made it clear that issues of desertification, land degradation and drought must be tackled if sustainable development was to succeed. They emphasized that hunger threatened peace and security, highlighting the need to increase the capacity to preserve natural resources.
Many delegates expressed alarm over the situation in the Horn of Africa, saying it was part of a pattern of land degradation and drought caused mainly by mounting population density and dwindling natural resources, and exacerbated by climate change. Attainable goals for anti-desertification goals were needed and countries must band together to implement practical scientific solutions.
Botswana’s representative described land degradation as “one of the most formidable challenges humanity has ever faced”, emphasizing that agriculture was at the centre of his people’s livelihoods as well as those of most Africans, and that desertification would prevent many across the continent from meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Though Botswana had formulated a national action programme, overcoming the complex challenge would require comprehensive efforts, he said, calling for additional resources beyond current pledges of official development assistance and expressing hope that the matter would figure prominently on the agenda of “Rio+20”.
Delegates from several African countries spoke of the massive decrease of arable land throughout the continent over recent decades, saying it had caused large migrations of affected people, who in turn were a source of tension in areas where they sought help. Land pressures made it nearly impossible to achieve sustainable development and poverty-reduction targets, and could wipe out development gains, a number of delegates said, calling for new technology to be made more widely available. “Disparities and unequal treatment of important conventions mean that timely funds aren’t provided to countries for assistance,” South Africa’s representative said.
Ecuador’s representative said sustainability was not only an environmental matter, and would require “change in the relationship between capital, labour and politics”. Technology transfer must be accompanied by the elimination of intellectual property barriers, she stressed, adding that little could be done without a change in unsustainable patterns of consumption, particularly in developed countries.
Delegates from outside Africa also said that soil degradation was an increasingly serious problem for their countries, reporting reduced agricultural yields and general environmental problems as a result of erosion affecting much of their populations and economies. Sri Lanka’s representative said his country could become a desert as it coped with increasing demands on its agriculture, forestry and wildlife. “The high population density and the recent improvement of living standards of the general public have created terrific pressure on all natural resources, including land resources of the country,” he said. “Being an agricultural nation, over 37 per cent of the Sri Lankan population is dependent directly on agriculture related activities for their sustenance.”
Germany’s representative recalled that during the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or “Earth Summit”, in Rio de Janeiro, the international community had assumed that land degradation and drought were not global problems and only affected individual countries and regions, especially those in Africa. However, recent studies showed that land and soil degradation occurred in all continents and had increased worldwide. “Our world’s growing population simply cannot afford to lose the very ground we stand on,” he said, calling for an immediate open dialogue on the issue. He said his country’s experience as one of the biggest donors in the field of sustainable land management and combating desertification showed that land degradation could be prevented and directly improve local living conditions, he said, cautioning, however that the scientific base must be enhanced to yield reliable data on the global dimensions of land degradation.
Delegates from other developed countries said they would offer experiences on sustainable land management that could serve as examples for others, with some speakers advocating the establishment of a panel of experts solely dedicated to desertification. All levels of society, including the private sector, must participate and take concerted actions, they said, urging the entire international community to cooperate in that effort.
“We should think about land when we talk about climate and about biodiversity when we talk about soil degradation,” Switzerland’s representative stressed. “Unfortunately, of these three problem areas, soils are often disregarded in discussion on sustainability, despite the vital functions they perform that are essential to life and the survival of our planet. I would like to express the hope that this day will go some way towards raising the profile of soil conservation in our political agendas.”
The representative of the Republic of Korea said that mainstreaming sustainable land management into national politicise could serve as a good example for other countries, adding that his country’s Government placed a high priority on achieving national development through successful deforestation.
Tajikistan’s representative said that soil degradation over the last 20 to 25 years had reduced agricultural yields, and erosion had caused environmental problems. Given the importance of those challenges, Tajikistan had acceded to the Convention to Combat Desertification, and the Government was undertaking many efforts which, however, were hindered by a lack of funds and staff.
The representative of Honduras said that over the last half century, the world has seen a “paradigmatic shift” from the protection of sovereignty to the protection of food security and the people. Experts had identified a link between desertification and territorial conflict over water, which had become a global problem. Honduras had implemented a number of projects with the aim of adapting to climate change, but those efforts were just the beginning of the enormous task ahead.
The representative of Bangladesh said her country not only faced frequent floods and cyclones, but also frequent droughts, and its agricultural land was dwindling rapidly as population pressure affected its soil and resources. Despite formidable challenges, however, development should not be at the cost of ecology and environment, she emphasized, saying that support for climate finance should be provided over and above official overseas development assistance. Above all, Bangladesh needed access to climate technologies, she said.
Algeria’s representative said Africa was poised to lose two thirds of its arable land, thereby wiping out development efforts. However, Algeria would have reclaimed 2,000 hectares.
Kyrgyzstan’s representative said mountains covered most of his country’s territory and little of it was arable. Land degradation was leading to the loss of agricultural productivity and threatening food security. Soil erosion leading to deforestation and a host of other problems affected most of the population, with economic losses of up to $350 million.
Brazil’s representative said more than 17 per cent of her country’s population lived in semi-arid and dry lands and the Government was committed to finding effective ways to overcome the associated challenges.
Chad’s representative said the development of his country and its future was being compromised by a triple threat. Located at the “crossroads of the Sahara”, it had seen a reduction of arable land since the 1960s. To meet the enormous environmental challenges facing all of humanity he urgently appealed for stronger international cooperation to guarantee sustainable development and eradicate poverty.