Land and Security: Focus on Migration

CDLS_Plenary_1_2016-31With over 1 million migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, 2015 saw the highest migration flow since World War II according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The degradation of 25% of the most productive lands is forcing farmers and pastoralists to move in search of fertile soil and pasture. These population movements are causing tensions between communities, further degradation of lands and are resulting in conflicts.

The fifth edition of the Caux Dialogue on “Land and Security” thus focused on the potential for land restoration to mitigate migration flows.

A planetary emergency

In his opening keynote, former Secretary-General of the Club of Rome and Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force member Martin Lees, warned that: “failure to take urgent and aggressive on climate change represents a clear and present danger for humanity. The difference of a few degrees can mean our survival as a species”, he added.

With a quarter of human-emissions coming from agriculture, forestry and other land use, the potential for emission reduction and sequestration is enormous. Interestingly, in the US, this is leading to bi-partisan efforts into exploring how to maximize this potential despite political polarization in other areas. Can cooperation over land restoration become a catalyst for bi-partisan climate action?

Land degradation and conflict

As Europe struggles with an unprecedented migration crisis, Grammenos Mastrojeni from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation warns that: “Europe wants to solve the problems in the Middle-East and Africa, not as a problem for the Middle-East and Africa but as a problem for Europe. That will simply not work”.

The Syrian crisis

A better understanding of what ignited the migration flows is a good place to start.

The Syrian example provides an excellent business case for analysts and geo-political experts. “The policy of promoting water intensive crops like cotton in a dry climate when you are suffering the worst drought in 900 years is a poor strategy” said Adam Koniuszewski from Green Cross. Water over extraction dried up the wells, widespread crop failures ensued and people from rural areas massively moved to the cities as a matter of survival.

For Dina Ionesco who is heading the Migration, Environment and Climate Change section at IOM, the problem is hence not voluntary migration but the forced displacement of people. This is what needs to be addressed and certainly something she understands given her family’s experience fleeing Romania as political refugees to France to escape the oppression of the Ceaușescu regime.


It takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single T-Shirt! Said Adam Koniuszewski

Forced displacement in Africa and elsewhere is often caused by land grabs. Andrea Staeritz, lawyer at Land Justice 4 West Africa, argues that the inability to enforce land ownership rights results in thousands of people being evicted from their lands and deprived of their livelihoods. Sometimes this results from European companies for palm oil plantations, for infrastructure projects or for reforestation projects that will end up in company CSR reports…

Growing action for restoring degraded lands

Thanks to forums like the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security, political concern and attention is growing for restoring degraded lands and halting desertification. Recent initiatives to promote constructive policymaking in this area include:

  • Future Policy Award to Combat Desertification by the World Future Council in cooperation with the UNCCD
  • Carbon Sequestration and Soil Conference to be held in Paris (Spring of 2017) with the participation of representatives from The World Bank, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Oxford University, Carbon Cycle Institute, Marin Carbon Project, The Nature Conservancy, Land Trust Alliance, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, IIAS-Potsdam, Carbon Underground, soil4climate, Healthy Soils Australia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the objective of raising the sense of urgency and working to build momentum for carbon sequestration in soils (contact Betsy Taylor)

Around the world momentum is building for soil restoration. The Caux Dialogues and its partners deserve praise for providing an early platform to raise awareness about land degradation and for becoming an extraordinary catalyst for land restoration action and the scaling-up of solutions.

Book launch session: Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, by Martin Frick , Jennifer Helgeson and Ilan Chabay.

61YsZZ-KcGL._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_Many of the experts and practitioners that have contributed to the Caux Dialogues over the years have shared their wisdom and vision in “Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future”, a book on land restoration by Martin Frick and Jennifer Helgesson. I am honoured for having been able to contribute a chapter on the impacts of military activities on soil and about promising remediation possibilities. The 600 page book can be ordered directly from the publisher Elsevier.

Smart Solutions for Land Degradation

Land degradation is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. Drought and desertification destroys 12 million hectares a year (an area the size of Greece) and impacts 1.5 billion people – mainly the poor and underprivileged. It is mostly caused by human activity: poor agricultural practices, intensive farming methods that remove soil nutrients, flood irrigation, chemical pollution, etc. We are now running out of healthy soil, so critical for ecosystems to support life and human development.

Caux2013panelI was recently a guest speaker of Luc Gnacadja (Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification) and Martin Frick, the conveners of the Caux Forum Conference on “Land Degradation and Human Security”. Human rights activist Bianca Jagger opened the session with a keynote emphasizing that environmental, social and economic challenges are all connected. She noted that the dramatic weather conditions we are experiencing today are the result of “only” 0.8°C of warming – questioning how political leaders can say that 2°C of warming would be safe. Our lack of action to curb emissions puts us on a path towards much higher temperatures, climate disruptions that are impacting ecosystems, water and degrading productive soil around the world.

The good news on land degradation is that there are solutions and they do not require high technology or large investments as many would think. With just a “pocket knife” Tony Rinaudo explains that we can bring back to life trees and vegetation in areas that were turning into deserts. He says that it is not the average climate change temperature rises that are a problem but the extremes. Just one day at 46°C is enough to fry an entire annual crop as the temperature concentrates at ground level reaching a scorching 70°C! But trees can provide protection from such extreme temperatures, they maintain moisture, increase biodiversity, can help protect crops from pests and can dramatically increase yields. Reforestation can provide hope to the entire African continent.

As Allan Savory says in ancient times herds of animals were protecting lands from desertification. These herds are now gone and the land is degrading. Allan suggests that the use of cattle to “mimic” nature, a process called “bio-mimicry”, can help restore degraded lands. Check his TED talk:

Caux2013We often forget the long-lasting impacts on land of armed conflicts. The Gulf War resulted in the largest terrestrial oil spill in history and has permanently contaminated Kuwait’s groundwater. Industrial activity and toxic chemicals pollute water, soil and impact the lives of millions. Globally, obsolete pesticide stockpiles of 5 million tons are awaiting destruction. Their safe elimination will cost €20 billion and require the cooperation of civil society, governments and the private sector. More on that soon.

Yes, human activity has created these problems and time is running out. But through ingenuity and cooperation we can still repair and restore degraded lands and ecosystems. Even some of the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided. Innovative, low-tech and low-cost solutions are available. Their deployment at scale requires greater awareness and concerted action between government, business and civil society. The Caux Forum has become an important global platform to make this happen.

Those were my thoughts on this issue, I am looking forward to hearing yours.