CONVENTION TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION
The Seventh Session of the Conference of the Parties
Nairobi, 17 – 28 October
Statement by Iceland
25 October 2005
The soil is a vital resource for all countries of the world. It is the foundation for nourishment and clothing for an ever growing world population and a number of other ecosystem services necessary for our wellbeing. By the same token, land degradation and loss of soil and vegetation cover has severe impacts on living conditions. Seen in this context, the Convention on Combating Desertification (CCD) is an instrument of vital importance.
The strong link between the conservation of the land and human living conditions has been amply demonstrated over the 1100 years of Icelandic history. Land degradation and desertification, through a combination of natural processes and human activity, has resulted in the loss of most of the original tree cover and close to half of Iceland´s vegetation. Much of Icelandic previously fertile soils are now severely degraded and extensive surfaces are a barren wilderness. For reasons of their own, Icelanders fully appreciate therefore the need to combat the destructive forces working on the soil in different countries.
The processes leading to desertification in different climatic regions of the world are strikingly similar. This was amply demonstrated when participants from all continents met at a workshop in Iceland last September to discuss the integration of science, policy development and legal tools for the conservation of soil resources of the world. This broad approach was quite fruitful, showcasing that solutions to soil conservation problems and desertification must integrate a wide range of disciplines and approaches.
The outcome of the workshop is in harmony with the decision taken at COP-6 of the CCD to make integrated approaches to land degradation, vulnerability and rehabilitation a priority issue for discussion within the Committee of Science and Technology . Briefing papers and outcomes from the workshop are available at the website www.SCAPE.org and the main findings have been distributed here.
At the workshop, one of the working groups focused on “Desertification; the road forward”. It was noted that desertification is a low political priority in Europe as a whole. Annex IV of the UNCCD only covers land degradation in Mediterranean countries, thereby excluding relevant areas of northern Europe, including Iceland. But desertification is a global issue that concerns all nations of the world. The severe loss of soil and vegetation in Iceland, in a humid environment, demonstrates that definitions of desertification should not be confined to arid environments. Such narrow definitions fail to do justice to the conceptual “global ownership” of the convention. The workshop statement also highlights of the scientific underpinnings of the CCD and suggests the establishment of an independent panel of experts for the convention, similar to the panels associated with the Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Another working group discussed the draft of a legal instrument for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Soil, as prepared by the Specialist Group of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law. The workshop encouraged the IUCN to introduce such an instrument for soils as soon as possible in light of the deteriorating ecological condition of world soil resources. The CCD would undoubtedly strengthen its global importance by incorporating such a protocol, or a legal instrument. However, an amendment to the convention would be required to make this possible.
Desertification should not be considered an isolated process and neither should its mitigation. About one third of the accumulation of greenhouse gases, threatening climate stability, stems from land degradation and desertification. However, large amounts of CO2 can be returned to the soils and ecosystems through carbon sequestration in organic matter, increasing food production and reducing poverty. Encouraged by its successful work on mitigating desertification, Iceland was instrumental in gaining international acceptance for revegetation of degraded land with regard to the Kyoto Protocol. Iceland has experienced substantial reductions in biological production resulting from long term land degradation, but can also bear witness to the importance of ecosystem restoration through carefully planned revegetation work. Therefore, Iceland strongly supports, in the context of the CCD, exploring synergies and increasing cooperation with other relevant conventions, institutions and agencies.
Nearly one hundred years ago, in 1907, Iceland´s Parliament passed a law to halt soil erosion and restore lost woodlands. This established the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service, which may be the oldest operating institute of its kind in the world. There have been innumerable success stories since then, and the Icelandic nation is highly committed to continuing this vital work.
Icelandic approaches to combating land degradation and desertification, and restoring lost resources, are based on linking scientific research with technological development and working closely with farmers. Participatory approaches have been key to Iceland´s success in combating desertification.
Finally, the work of the CCD is highy relevant to the UN´s Millennium Development Goals. One way to achieve those goals is through development cooperation and transfer of knowledge. Just as Icelanders can learn from the many countries that are in the process of strengthening their work on combating desertification and in revegetating their lands within the framework of the Convention, they may be able to share their experiences and information with others. As they celebrate a century of soil conservation in the year 2007, Icelanders will want give serious consideration to the different ways in which Iceland can support the vital and important projects in the drylands and assist in the land conservation efforts of the international community.