By Chloe Mcenery Beacham
Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new wall is being created that unites, not divides - the Great Green Wall. An African Union initiative to combat the depredations of desertification of the Sahara and Sahel region, the 15km wide ‘barrier’ of land being restored from Senegal to Djibouti is helping transform the lives of millions of people, and ecosystems, on the frontlines of climate change.
Source: John Kappler, National Geographic
The landscape restoration project has evolved well beyond the initial objective of halting expansion of the Sahara to combat degradation, desertification and drought. Working with international partners including UNCCD, FAO and IUCN it has grown into an Africa-wide flagship initiative to regreen the Sahara’s southern border, supporting indigenous land management practices to engage innovative interventions, strengthening rural livelihoods, ecosystems and community resilience. Yet it is its African ownership which is the driving force behind this unique transboundary initiative; its foundations based not on international funding but truly grass roots initiatives.
Land around the Sahel is badly degraded - only 20% isn’t - with over 30 million people facing food and water insecurity, and, increasingly, conflict and migration. Restoring health to the Sahel’s ecosystems bringing food security, sustainability and stability, the Great Green Wall (GGW) is building resilience into the communities living here. Using native knowledge and species of trees, shrubs and grasses adapted to local - often hostile - conditions, low-cost land restoration activities are simultaneously helping communities adapt to and mitigate against climate change, providing a vital corridor for biodiversity and the strongest defence against increasing environmental degradation, instability and adversity.
Officially initiated in 2007, over a decade in and the achievements of the project are attracting renewed interest. Senegal, for example, where 12 million drought resistant trees have been planted in less than a decade, or Ethiopia, with 15 million hectares of degraded land restored. Stocktaking efforts to assess outcomes are consequently underway, and Climatekos gGmbH has been asked to conduct a comprehensive assessment of implementation and impacts of the Great Green Wall to date, and what is still needed to meet the 2030 vision of 100m ha of restored land, engaging member states on a stakeholder assessment of the myriad micro-projects making up the initiative. Attending the 5th Regional Steering Committee meeting of the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and Sahel Initiative, Dakar, November 19-21, Climatekos consultants Sabine Henders and Louis Perroy met with stakeholders to present objectives of the report and the data collection methodology, and in addition gain a first picture of the status of the initiative, as well as obstacles to developing and coordinating activities.
Collecting success stories from 11+ countries accounting for land restoration progress, identifying challenges faced as well as financial resources pledged and disbursed, findings are feeding into recommendations for a roadmap to implement the 2030 vision. Amassed data assessing regional impacts and alignment with national priorities (such as agriculture policies or NDCs) of the countries involved will guide and drive forward defined criteria - environmental, social, and financial - assessing the impact in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation (carbon sequestration through tree planting, increased resilience in communities through improved water access and soil properties), and in how far the GGW has contributed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The stocktake aims to paint a clear picture of the initiative’s achievements, which can help support GGW countries in the mobilization of additional funding from public and private donors.
Given the geographical spread (the report scope covers the original 11 Sahel countries involved, although the broader initiative has now taken root in 20 countries across Africa) assessment is challenging. A harmonized strategy providing guiding principles and objectives is used as a basis, though (as ever…) the lack of a common reporting system or monitoring mechanism is problematic. Yet the co-benefits of sustainable land management, maintaining and enhancing carbon sinks simultaneously contributing towards emissions reduction goals is generating both specific, immediate benefits to communities through adaptation, generating socio-economic benefits, halting biodiversity loss, and long-term, global benefits to livelihoods and entire ecosystems through land restoration and climate change mitigation. Local knowledge, working with modern technology, is deepening, broadening and strengthening resilience, reclaiming and, ultimately, gaining ground in the struggle against climate change.
As Sabine Henders said after the event in Dakar, “we are seeing that land degradation is not irreversible - the project is growing and sowing hope and fruit; we must help nurture the roots”.
Climatekos gGmbH is an independent social enterprise in the field of environment and development focusing on international climate protection.