MADRID Climate change has become the prime
cause of an accelerating spread of deserts which threatens the
world's drylands, the United Nations' top climate official said
Yvo de Boer said that, although growing populations in dry
areas were putting serious stress on the environment through
over-grazing, water demand, deforestation and other activities,
climate change was the greater threat.
"Climate change will change weather patterns even more ...
especially in Africa, rainfall is decreasing and climate change
is exacerbating desertification. Climate change is probably the
biggest factor," said de Boer, who was speaking on the
sidelines of a U.N. desertification conference in Madrid.
Drylands, including many in crop producing areas, cover 41
percent of the world's land surface, of which 10-20 percent are
De Boer added that desertification would, in turn, speed up
"You'll see a sort of feedback mechanism ... quite a lot of
carbon is captured in soil, so with more desertification
(exposing the soil), you also get more CO2 emissions. They are
two halves of the same coin."
Major deserts like the Sahara, Gobi and Kalahari are all
expanding and desertification has begun to threaten countries
like Spain and Kazakhstan, where swathes of cropland have had
to be abandoned in the last three decades.
The U.N. estimates that more than 250 million people are
directly affected by desertification and approximately one
billion in over 100 countries are at risk.
De Boer said he hoped the two-week conference would agree a
10-year strategy to fight desertification that better
emphasized the link with climate change. He added that member
states needed to pledged millions of additional dollars to fund