The Special Climate Change Fund finances one SLM project in mountainous Burundi.
Photo: © Anke Schönborn

Sustainable land management to mitigate climate change impact

Soils are the second largest global carbon sinks, and land is very important for mitigation of climate change and adaptation to its effects. At the 2015 Global Soil Week, experts discussed how sustainable land management can contribute to rehabilitating degraded land and improving its resilience to climate change impacts.

In recent years, soils have not only re-emerged at the core of the development agenda, but have also increasingly been recognised for their role in carbon sequestration. Soils are the world’s second largest global carbon sink, and climate change science indicates that land is important both for possible mitigation of climate change and adaptation to its effects.

However, land degradation and the loss of fertile soils is of global concern and urgently requires a broad adoption of sustainable land management practices, not least to improve the resilience of our land.

“Mitigation and adaptation to climate change through sustainable land management - global and national perspectives on challenges and opportunities” was the challenging subject of a “Dialogue Session” at this year’s Global Soil Week, held in Berlin from 20th to 24th April.

The session started with an overview of the global governance of soils and climate, given by representatives of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Their paper centred on the creation of the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), which was briefly presented by Katia Simeonova of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) had been established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)  in 2001 to finance activities, programmes and measures relating to climate change that are complementary to those funded under the Climate Change focal area of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Trust Funds, Simeonova explained, noting that on April 27th, 2015, the GEF, through the SCCF, had provided USD 329.23 million in grant financing for 73 projects in 79 countries, most  of which focus on climate change adaptation.

Simeonova further told the meeting that the SCCF supported adaptation and technology transfer initiatives in a country-driven manner, in accordance with national policies, strategies and plans across all relevant sectors. Sustainable land and water management practices were among the many tools used in SCCF investments to enhance the resilience of human and natural systems to the adverse effects of climate change. She also stressed that through 57 projects, SCCF investments amounting to USD 95.27 million were bringing some 2.7 million hectares of land in 25 countries under better management practices to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Sustainable land management (SLM) practices were at the centre of the second part of the event. With the aid of a project financed by SCCF in Burundi, experts of “Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit” (GIZ - Burundi) and adeplhi consult (Germany) presented initial results of an SLM approach. First Thorsten Huber (GIZ, Burundi) explained that many SLM techniques had the potential to serve the dual purpose of climate change mitigation/adaptation and improve ecosystems and livelihoods. However, many well-known SLM techniques had not yet been adopted.

The mountainous country of Burundi was second last in the world hunger report, Huber explained and reminded the participants of its dense population and the inaccessibility of the country’s interior. In Burundi, agriculture is practised in tiny lots of half a hectare or less, and on steep mountain slopes. The soils are poor, and most of the forests have been cleared. This was the context of the project, Huber said.

With the aid of a vulnerability assessment, the country’s zones that were under particular threat and with a high degradation potential were identified first of all, Stefan Schneiderbauer of the European Academy of Bozen, Italy, explained. Together with adelphi consult, a vulnerability map was subsequently compiled that highlighted three endangered regions in Burundi and provided important indicators, e.g. on the adaptive capacity of the hotspot areas. On this basis, the experts developed an initial SLM strategy that was discussed in a multi-stakeholder approach with all participants, especially with the smallholder families living in the region.

But how can smallholders with less than half a hectare of land become convinced of the need for SLM? After all, in the context of this approach, afforestation measures in part of the already only marginally available land are an element of the strategy. Participants also asked themselves how SLM strategies could be implemented despite democratic and traditional chief structures still existing in parallel. Information and awareness raising among all stakeholders about the positive potential of SLM in the long run both in economic and ecological and social terms was one of the answers the experts gave in this respect.

SLM should be applied not only in Africa but also, for example, in Europe, the participants in the debate in Berlin stressed. It could become important instruments in a political decision-making process, for in Europe too, there had to be less pressure on soils, and they needed to be prepared for forthcoming climate change.

Angelika Wilcke, editor, Rural 21,


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