Forum fights desertification

Updated: 2013-08-03 03:47

By WANG KAIHAO (China Daily)

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UN, China explore ideas for better green development

The United Nations is seeking more cooperation with China to explore better models to fight desertification, according to the Kubuqi International Desert Forum 2013 that opened in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region on Friday.

The two-day biennial forum is being held deep in the Kubuqi, the nation's seventh-largest desert, covering an area of 18,600 square kilometers.

Forum fights desertification

Mo Yan, a Nobel Prize in literature winner, takes part in a tree-planting event for renowned artists in the Kubuqi Desert in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region on Friday. The Kubuqi International Desert Forum brought the United Nations and China together to explore better models to fight desertification in the country.SHEN SHI / FOR CHINA DAILY

The forum is co-hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification secretariat, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the State Forestry Administration and the Inner Mongolia regional government.

More than 300 business leaders, decision-makers and experts from home and overseas shared their views on combating desertification and exploiting business potential buried in the sands.

"We would like to enhance cooperation with other countries, explore new ideas and forms of combating desertification and new technologies and industries for ecological protection," Premier Li Keqiang said in a congratulatory message.

"We will further promote the progress of ecological civilization during economic growth and realize the green, sustainable development of human beings."

Vice-Premier Wang Yang attended the opening ceremony and read the message from Li.

China has 26.3 million sq km of land threatened by desertification, composing 27 percent of the nation's total land area, which affects 400 million people, Zhao Shucong, head of the State Forestry Administration, said in a speech at the opening ceremony.

The central government has allocated 1.4 billion yuan ($228 million) annually to combating desertification in recent years. However, government-led campaigns no longer monopolize the war against the encroaching sands.

"We will fail if we focus only on business," said Wang Wenbiao, chairman of the Elion Resources Group. "We will not succeed either if we focus only on improvement of livelihoods or eco-systems. It is necessary to find a balance among different factors."

The group has built a 200-km long and 20-km wide green belt in Kubuqi, focusing on a range of desert-related businesses.

The group said it has created more than 100,000 working opportunities since the early 1990s, including more than 5,000 people who grow trees. The average annual income of herdsmen living in Kubuqi was less than 500 yuan in the early 1990s but now surpasses 30,000 yuan.

Local annual precipitation reached a peak of more than 420 mm in 2012, up from around 60 mm a year before a large-scale anti-desertification campaign began in 1988. On average, less than five sandstorms occurred annually in Kubuqi in the past few years, a sharp drop from more than 100 a year in the 1980s.

According to statistics from the United Nations, 600,000 to 700,000 sq km of land become desert around the world annually. A declaration from the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012, aimed to make that number zero by the end of 2030.

"Deserts are the home of many of the poorest people on the Earth. The goal set in Rio is not easy but can be achieved because the thriving scenes we see in Kubuqi give us confidence," said Sha Zukang, secretary-general of the conference in Rio de Janeiro.

State Forestry Administration data show that China's deserts expanded 3,400 sq km annually in the late 1990s, but have slowed to an expansion of around 1,700 sq km.

Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, was on his third visit to Kubuqi. The institution signed a five-year strategic cooperation plan with Beijing-based non-profit group the Elion Foundation during the forum to facilitate international efforts to combat desertification.

"It will be in vain if we copy and paste," Gnacadja said. "Each model should be designed specifically for a certain place and the local people. All the business here is not suitable for Sub-Saharan Africa. But the commitment and hard work people in Kubuqi have made will inspire nations around the world."