N. Hulot in Ankara : "Desertification and the struggle against poverty are inseperable"
mercredi 21 octobre 2015, par Florent Tiassou

Nicolas Hulot, special envoy of the president of the French Republic for the protection of the planet, speaks to Mohammad Al-Masum Molla about how the big environmental meetings being held this year will affect the fate of the planet. (Interview in French and English). By Mohammad Al-Masum Molla / Florent Tiassou

Why is it that everyone is concerned about climate change but so few are concerned about land degradation ?

The issue of climate change is now very much on the front burner, and for good reason. The success of the 21st conference of parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December is hugely important for the future of mankind, for the survival of our children, and for future generations. Time is pressing and it will be increasingly difficult to control global climate if the Paris conference ends in failure or with partial success.

Attention is primarily focused on mitigation, on the need to emit less greenhouse gases. This is indeed a matter of great urgency, but land degradation is also a vital issue, with billions of lives at stake. The two go hand in hand. We won’t succeed if we do not tackle both greenhouse gas emissions and land degradation.

But where does desertification stand among the UN’s priorities ?

The UN is treating desertification as a very important issue. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Executive Secretary Monique Barbut is doing a splendid job raising awareness and promoting real solutions. The 12th conference of parties (COP12) to the desertification convention, which is taking place right now in Turkey, is the right place to achieve progress weeks before COP21 convenes in Paris.

But world leaders — at least those from countries not directly affected — may not give enough attention to desertification. This must be addressed, since desertification has severe consequences, including on the security situation of affected regions, particularly in Africa.

Could you explain what Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) is, and why it is significant ?

Neutrality means that you should rehabilitate one acre of land for every acre you degrade or divert for other ends.

In simple terms, it means we humans have degraded far too much land. This is not sustainable with a growing world population.

At the very minimum, this has to stop. In my view, though, neutrality is not quite enough.

With the world’s population increasing, we should rehabilitate more land than we use or degrade. That’s why I urge economic actors which consume land or divert it for building to rehabilitate more land than they use, for farming. By doing so, they’ll have a positive impact.

There seems to be some debate over the definition of LDN. Why is that ?

There are indeed complex issues regarding the scope of LDN, which areas should be covered, and how it would work. This is understandable, but I hope these discussions won’t end in a stalemate.

The world can’t wait while more and more people must be fed with less and less arable land. We have to move forward.

The Sahara, Atacama, and Gobi are natural deserts : Are they part of the threat too ? And do your efforts address them ?

I am not a scientist but deserts do change over time. Some present-day deserts were fertile areas in the past. With a changing climate and a lack of water in vast regions, deserts are poised to expand and to further reduce arable land. Even Europe, which used to have a temperate climate, is now affected. That is why climate action and action against desertification must be pursued urgently.

What would be the defining achievement of COP12 in your opinion ? What would make you really proud to have been part of this conference ?

I hope the UNCCD COP12 in Ankara will see progress, real progress, on the LDN objective and on concrete instruments to fund it. Both matter : We need to set a clear target and we need the tools, and the money, to achieve it.

The world’s leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) barely a month ago. How will they be reflected in the outcome of COP12 ?

I was in New York with the French president last month when the SDGs were adopted. They are of great importance and it is particularly appropriate that the SDGs were adopted weeks before the desertification COP in Turkey and the climate COP in France.

Sustainable development, climate action, and action against soil degradation are very closely linked. SDG 13 focuses on climate, SDG 15 focuses on ecosystems, forests, and desertification.

I travel a lot. Wherever I go in the developing world, I am constantly reminded that climate, desertification, and the struggle against poverty are inseparable. 2015 has to be the historic year that we make key progress on these three fronts.

How will the land degradation issue be treated at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris ?

I very much hope that degradation will be given due prominence during COP21 — both as a problem and as a solution.

Land degradation is a major threat but action to restore soils may be the most efficient and cost-effective way to tackle climate change. France is very active on this with the “Four per Thousand” initiative [a carbon sequestration program for French agriculture] to improve the quality of soils and restore their performance.

What outcome do you hope to see at COP21 ?

I could give you a long, detailed answer but it would probably be missing the point. We need ambitious commitments backed by credible financial instruments. A commitment may remain an empty promise if it is not backed by concrete ways to fund it.

Confidence, particularly the confidence of developing countries, will be there only if targets and commitments are backed by concrete solutions and the financial instruments to fund them.

This is, in my view, essential.