Arguably, the global battle against climate change and the reclamation of degraded biodiversity cannot be achieved without Africa playing a central role. Though land degradation, desertification and drought are causes for concern in Africa, the continent’s peat-lands, grasslands, forests and rivers represent the promise of ecological and environmental restoration for the world.
Forests are important to addressing carbon emissions, so if degraded or lost they can also become huge greenhouse emitters. For instance, Africa’s peat-lands, can store extensive amounts of carbon for centuries if protected and preserved. Moreover, grasslands – often viewed us unproductive wastelands – are important storehouses for carbon and a livelihood resource for pastoral communities, useful for wild and domestic species’ grazing, says Miss Phemo Kgomotso-Technical Advisor of the UNDP’s Nature, Climate and Energy Team.
Studies are proving land quality is on the decline worldwide. Global assessments show that 40 percent of global land is degraded, putting half of the world’s population at risk. This is because degraded lands and soils lose their ability to support animal and plant life. They cannot provide water and food, or protect against the impact of droughts, floods, fires or even diseases like COVID-19.
You and I are responsible for this predicament. Humans have converted or transformed 70 percent of the world’s land from its natural state to ‘managed lands’ in a craze to exploit mineral resources. Besides, animal grazing represents the single largest land-use category, followed by managed forestland and cropland. Though grazing for farming is necessary for human survival, the uncontrolled exploitation of forests and lands threatens future generations.
Other studies are demonstrating that forests across the planet are in decline. Most of those in dire state are in the tropics – such as the Amazon in Brazil and Latin America; Indonesia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia; and in Congo, Central Africa. It is estimated that between 2001 and 2021, Ghana lost 1.41Mha of tree cover – equivalent to a 20% decrease in tree cover since 2000 and 740mt of CO₂ emissions.
Also, wildfires and logging have accelerated tree loss in the boreal and temperate forests of Russia, North America and Africa. Consequently, grasslands, which cover 24 percent of the earth’s surface, are at serious risk of depletion. Climatologists refer to land degradation as desertification and point to human activity (overexploiting soil and water resources) and climate change as culprits.
Naturally, drought often accompanies desertification – affecting more than 55 million people worldwide every year, especially the poor in low-income countries. Studies have shown that desertification, land degradation, and drought affect sub-Saharan Africa more than any region on earth. Asia is next to Africa in terms of land degradation. Populations of these regions (most of them poor rural communities), made up of small-scale farmers, women, youth, indigenous peoples and other at-risk groups, are under immense pressure to feed themselves. Therefore, by committing to reversing land degradation, abating desertification, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and halting the extinction of wild species, the world also stands to benefit. This is why world leaders must honour their commitments to help Africa preserve its forests and combat climate change.
Developed world leading the chart
In Europe, 25 percent (an equivalent of 120,000km2) of peat-lands are reported as degraded, and 60 to 70 percent of soils have lost their capacity to function – risking desertification for 25 percent of southern Europe, according to Miss Kgomotso. Besides, soil quality in the United States has degenerated so significantly that farmers there spend an estimated half-a-billion US dollars on synthetic fertilisers every year to maintain world dominance as the largest producers of maize and other crops. In Africa, the increasing adoption of synthetic fertiliser is a creeping threat to long-term soil fertility and future food security.
In central Asia, extracting water for agricultural purposes has reduced the Aral Sea from the fourth-largest lake in the world to a relative puddle; thus devastating livelihoods and economies in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. A similar future may be facing Lake Chad in West Africa, where illegal logging and mining are threatening the lake that supplies water resources to several countries. In Ghana, the once-mighty Rivers Pra and Ankobra – and the unique Lake Bosomtwe – are dwindling due to degrading human activities. Illegal mining and logging are two major threats to river sources in Ghana and West Africa, with foreign nationals playing an uncontrollable role.
Reason for hope
Under the Rio Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification – and other voluntary initiatives, the world agreed to restore one billion hectares of degraded lands and ecosystems through pledges and commitments. UN member-states have also declared 2021-2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This declaration is triggering a global movement and fuelling momentum for restoration and sustainable land management. Interestingly, sub-Saharan African countries are spearheading almost half of global restoration commitments and pledges. Many of them have made commitments under the Land Degradation Neutrality framework and the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative.
African countries are focused on protecting and restoring natural areas, and managing and rehabilitating lands which have been converted largely to agriculture and forestry use. Africa also promised to restore the Sahel and Sahara through the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative: a bold objective, given the magnitude of challenge in greening over 100 million hectares of desert and degraded land.
Out of the 11 African countries participating in GGW, only Ethiopia and Niger are reported to have contributed most to the GGW. This being done through tree-planting and reforestation, soil and water conservation, and farmer-managed natural regeneration. Ghana has also started a tree-planting initiative called the Green Ghana Project to establish ecological reclamation across the country. In its two years, some two million trees of various species have been planted across the country… though the survival rate is not impressive. Besides, the Ghana Forestry Commission’s ‘Youth in Afforestation’ project is designed to encourage the youth to play a leading role in environmental protection for their own future.
Despite its economic and social challenges, Africa holds the best solutions for moving the world toward a secure, climate-resilient future, but faces the toughest challenges. The continent has the youngest population, largest amount of arable land, and greatest potential for restoration. What’s more, Africa hosts a quarter of the global stock of wildlife populations.
Yet Africa is home to some of the world’s poorest people, who are the most vulnerable to climate and environmental stress. It also lacks the political muscle to secure enough financing for needed restoration and adaptation measures.
Climate campaigners have been stressing that Africa contributes a mere four percent of global gas emissions, yet it is highly threatened by the climate crisis. Estimates, for example, show it will take between US$36billion and US$43billion to restore the Sahel, which is far more money than the US$16billion pledged by donors at the 2021 One Planet Summit for the Great Green Wall.
Miss Phemo Kgomotso argues that for the world to restore its degraded lands and ecosystems, Africa’s success is crucial. A recent analysis estimates that fulfilling current global restoration commitments will require US$1.6trillion over 10 years. A 2015 study of 42 African countries showed that net benefits of taking action against soil erosion on 105 million hectares of croplands, between 2016 and 2030, could yield as much as US$62.4billion per year.
Globally, researchers estimate potential economic returns as high as US$125trillion to US$140trillion every year – far more than it would cost. By supporting Africa’s initiatives, such as its commitments to reversing land degradation, abating desertification, bending the curve on greenhouse gas emissions and halting the extinction of wild species, the world also stands to benefit.
The 27th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP27) will be held in Egypt, November 7 – 18, 2022. Amid unmet climate commitments, lingering disruptions due to COVID-19 and the finance, energy and food challenges created by the war in Ukraine, Africa’s needs to get its priorities right before heading to Egypt.
In a speech at the recent Climate Adoption and Emission Conference in Holland, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo underscored Ghana’s determination to push COP27 to double financing toward climate adaption efforts on the continent.
“It is time to turn words into deeds, and ambition into action. With the world in flames and under floodwaters, the eyes of people everywhere will be on the decision-makers at COP27. They have to deliver if they are to escape the censure of history,” he told the dignitaries. President Akufo-Addo argued that it makes economic sense for global leaders to honour their commitment in financing climate change interventions. According to him, failure to tackle the effects of climate change could have dire economic consequences for a middle-income economy like Ghana.
Africa Adaptation Programme
The Africa Adaptation Acceleration Programme (AAAP) is an intervention designed to help Africa become more resilient in combatting climate change and its impact on African economies. The focus of AAAP is on food security, resilient infrastructure, climate finance, and youth employment. The programme intends to mobilise about US$25billion over five years to accelerate adaptation action. The African Development Bank has committed to providing half of this amount; a move that gives indications Africa has the determination to engage in solutions to its problems, according to President Akufo-Addo. He also pointed out that climate change threatens the progress Africa has made in terms of environmental preservation, despite the COVID-19 pandemic which accounted for sub-Saharan Africa’s first recession in some 25 years.
“My country, Ghana, is attempting to use its own fiscal resources to address these risks. The same is true for other African countries. However, the growing food and fuel crises are limiting our fiscal space to respond effectively as the cost of borrowing goes up prohibitively, and access to the capital market tightens dramatically,” he added.
“If we want our continent to thrive, we have to adapt to climate change. And to achieve this, adaptation financing needs to start flowing. Africa needs its friends from across the world to increase their support for concrete adaptation solutions delivered through the AAAP,” says President Akufo-Addo.
Africa Renewal. 2022. Africa’s role in saving the world’s damaged lands and ecosystems.