World day to combat desertification and drought: What it means for Europe

Last year, the biggest drought in recent decades caused heatwaves across Europe, with temperatures reaching a record high of 45 degrees Celsius. As climate change worsens, we risk seeing the scenario repeat – and intensify – itself in coming years.

Drought is one of the drivers of desertification, a process that occurs slowly through loss of soil productivity. Strong policies, innovative farming practices – and responsible soil management – can help reduce or prevent the process. So, is enough being done in Europe to combat land degradation and desertification?

In 2018, our joint Ecologic, IEEP and Milieu report for DG Environment inventoried and assessed a comprehensive set of policy instruments for soil protection across the EU and in each Member State.

The analysis showed that EU Member States are at different stages in addressing soil threats and emphasising soil functions. Overall, we found a lack of strategic coordination and integration among the policies in place across the different countries.

“Although existing EU policies do offer relatively strong protection, the lack of a strategic policy framework dedicated to soil is currently limiting the degree of ambition,” said Catherine Bowyer, Senior Policy Analyst at IEEP, who co-authored the report.

Soil at the heart

Bowyer pointed to another research IEEP is involved in that could offer improved means of protecting the soil.

Under the ISQAPER project, IEEP is currently coordinating efforts to develop policy relevant tools, indicators and improvements to facilitate soil protection in the EU and China. 

“Understanding policy and its role in motivating land management decisions will be key to retaining and delivering climate benefits and ecosystem services associated with soils,” said Bowyer.

In a blog post to coincide with the Global Soil Week 2017, our executive director, Céline Charveriat, highlighted the role soil plays in our society, from being a water and nutrient cycle regulator and source of food and construction material, to serving as a habitat for numerous species.

But soil quality in Europe is deteriorating, she warned, pointing that “there are serious consequences to ignoring its importance in achieving a healthy environment and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Land, climate and human security

For all the challenges facing Europe, the issue of desertification and drought is global in scale. As we’re writing this, India is facing a historic drought that’s already forced thousands to abandon their homes in search of water. Earlier this month, temperature in the northern city of Churu reached 50.8 degrees Celsius, making it the hottest place on the planet.

Last year, in our Think 2030 series of recommendation papers, we looked at how climate change and ecosystem degradation pose serious security threats to international peace and security.

In regions like the Lake Chad Basin, for instance, climate change has already contributed to conflict and population displacement. Once one of Africa’s largest lakes, in the last 40 years, Lake Chad has shrunk by more than 90% due to climate change, inadequate water use and ecosystem degradation.

Today, millions of people dependant on the lake as a source of livelihood are suffering from severe food insecurity or have been displaced from their homes. This in turn has created a breeding ground for violence and a number of terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention and the World Day to Combat Desertification, established to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification. Instead of ignoring the issue, let’s ensure we “grow the future together”.

#2019WDCD

See our ‘Joining the Dots’ briefing paper for more information on the ISQAPER project.

Photo © Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville / IFRC