An interview with Prof. Linxiu Zhang, Director of the United Nations Environment Programme on the occasion of International Day of South-South Cooperation on 12 September. Prof. Zhang talked about UNEP International Ecosystems Management Partnership (UNEP-IEMP): An initiative on moves to restore ecosystems and promote livelihoods along Africa’s Great Green Wall.
Q: What is the United Nations Environment Programme-International Ecosystems Management Partnership (UNEP-IEMP)?
A: UNEP-IEMP is the first UNEP collaborating centre in the South for the South. It is a joint venture between UNEP and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, supported by the Government of China. UNEP-IEMP is implementing the UNEP Flagship Programme on Climate, Ecosystems and Livelihoods designed to improve livelihoods by building climate resilience and restoring and conserving key ecosystems in developing countries. It encourages and promotes South-South cooperation through monitoring and assessment, capacity-building, technology demonstration and science for policy.
Q: How did UNEP-IEMP get involved with the Great Green Wall for South-South Cooperation?
A: At the third session of the Pan African Agency on the Great Green Wall (PAGGW) Summit in 2015, Jian Liu, the founding Director of UNEP-IEMP, and a team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences were invited to share China`s restoration experiences. This paved the way for UNEP`s South-South cooperation endeavour with Sahel countries on Great Green Wall issues. It was during this summit that cooperation with China was listed as a Great Green Wall priority, based on a consensus that China`s experiences and technology are applicable to Africa. To enhance science and technological cooperation, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the PAGGW office and the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Science at the 13th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in 2017.
Q: What does China bring to the table in terms of land restoration experience?
A: China has long experience in ecosystems-based adaptation such as the Grain for Green programme and the Green Wall in the heart of the Taklamakan Desert. From the Taklamakan Desert in western China to the Sahel, we share the same golden sand, similar climate and desertification-related issues. China has decades of science-based experience in combating land degradation and is keen to share its experience to help promote the Sustainable Development Goals.
Q: What are the main UNEP-IEMP initiatives in the Sahel at the moment?
A: Under the Climate, Ecosystems and Livelihoods programme there are four major UNEP-IEMP projects currently being implemented in the Sahel region and part-funded by the Chinese Government. These are: a UNEP-Global Environment Facility (GEF) project titled Enhancing Capacity, Knowledge and Technology Support to Build Climate Resilience of Vulnerable Developing Countries (2013-2020); the UNEP-Ministry of Science and Technology project titled Joint Research on Practical Technology to Combat Desertification for African Priority Countries of the Great Green Wall (2019-2022); the UNEP-National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) project titled Formation Mechanism and Control Regimes of Desertification in Mauritania (2019-2023); and the UNEP-NSFC project Driving Mechanisms of Land Use and Land Cover Change in the Sahel: Impacts and Responses (2017-2021).
Q: What about sustainable livelihoods? Are you doing any work in the region on this?
A: Yes. For example, in Ethiopia, pastoral communities are increasingly vulnerable to drought.
In Ethiopia, we jointly established a 200-hectare rangeland management demo site at Yabello Danbala-waccuu community ranch, which drew on China`s experiences and lessons learned, as well as a lowland soil and water conservation pilot. Various practical capacity-building was given to the local pastoral community and experts. A total of 650 households benefited directly from these pilot projects, with improved livelihoods of herders and better resilience to drought.
Q: What kind of training and capacity building has China helped develop?
A: We’ve had various exchanges with the Great Green Wall countries. In 2017, a 14-day workshop for some 20 participants from Great Green Wall member countries was organized by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 2019, UNEP, together with The World Academy of Sciences, organized the Second Conference on Climate, Ecosystem and Livelihood in Africa to enhance regional dialogue and capacity-building.
Additionally, 32 African students have been funded for graduate study at Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the past decade.
Q: What are the immediate and longer-term plans of UNEP-IEMP?
A: We will continue to boost science support for policy. The Association for Combating Desertification was officially launched at the end of June 2020 under the auspices of the Alliance of International Science Organizations (ANSO). We also aim to strengthen partnerships with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, governments, and the private sector to contribute to achieving a land degradation-neutral world by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Learn more.