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Environment ministers endorse plan to restore degraded land

African environment ministers have endorsed a plan to restore over 200 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 as part of a push to safeguard the continent’s biodiversity.

The agreement was made ahead of the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, convened in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, from 14-29 November.

Africa is facing catastrophic biodiversity loss as a result of a combination of factors including overexploitation of natural resources, climate change, and pollution. Scientific consensus reports presented at the meeting warn that Africa risks losing half of its bird and mammal species by the end of the century.  

An estimated 6.6 million hectares, or 20 per cent of Africa’s land surface, is degraded due to soil erosion, salinisation, pollution and loss of vegetation or soil fertility, the reports say.

To counter this, African environment ministers have endorsed the Pan-African Action Agenda on Ecosystem Restoration for Increased Resilience, covering a period of 12 years (2019-2030).

The plan has three phases. The first (2019-20) will consolidate current activities and carry out coordinated awareness-raising across the continent.

The second (2021-25) will launch a series of ambitious ecosystem restoration projects.

The third (2026-30) will focus on long-term deliverables like creating a regional land and ecosystem restoration trust fund, promoting payment for ecosystem services, and establishing partnerships with the private sector to restore ecosystems.

The 200 million hectares of critically degraded ecosystems that the plan will aim to restore by 2030 should represent a wide range of ecosystem types, it says, including forests, wetlands, coasts, mangroves, agricultural land, rangeland and deserts.

The efforts will build on existing projects, like the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that seeks to restore 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. Or the Green Wall initiative that aims to reverse the expansion of the Sahara desert.

The action plan says more science needs to be carried out in order to protect Africa’s biodiversity. This includes better mapping of ecosystems, strengthening national and regional information-sharing, and involving universities and research institutions in finding new and effective solutions.

Now it has been approved by ministers, the action plan will be sent to the African Union assembly for adoption by heads of state. The assembly’s next meeting is scheduled for January 2019.  

In their meeting declaration, the African environment ministers urge African nations to mobilise resources locally and through bilateral, regional and global funders to implement the action agenda.

Luthando Dziba, co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Africa, said it was too early to gauge the effectiveness of the continent’s attempts to reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.

“However, the high-level commitment from African ministers of environment to restoration and to improved biodiversity and ecosystem management is clear in every statement made at the African Ministerial Summit on Biodiversity here in Sharm El Sheikh,” he told Research Africa.