A bi-monthly update on the work of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)


See previous issues: 1.1 | 1.2 | 1.3 | 2.1 | 2.2 | 2.3 | 2.4 | 2.5 | 2.6 | 3.1 | 3.2 | 3.3 | 3.4

In this issue







From the Executive Secretary
“UNCCD’s COP10 will be remembered as the session that brought crucial innovations both in the actions proposed and the way parties fulfil their roles as stakeholders in the UNCCD process.” More…

Publications More…

COP10 sets UNCCD’s course to 2013 and beyond
The Conference affirmed that the UNCCD can count on high-level political support. It paved the way for creating a solid scientific foundation within the UNCCD. More…

The new Changwon Initiative: towards tangible targets
The Government of the Republic of Korea launched the Changwon Initiative to serve as a support pillar for the UNCCD Strategy in all efforts to implement the UNCCD. More…

Republic of Korea: a champion in reversing land degradation
Don Koo Lee, President of the UNCCD COP10 and Minister of the Korea Forest Service: The Republic of Korea is a perfect example to demonstrate that addressing desertification, land degradation and drought can be a first step to eradicating poverty and promoting economic growth. More…

Yellow dust: a long-distance traveller
This Asian dust phenomenon is a serious transnational desertification problem due to the damage it causes, not only in the source countries, primarily Mongolia and China, but all over North-East Asia. More…


Extending the UNCCD’s support base

The UNCCD held what is widely regarded as a very positive tenth Conference of the Parties (COP10) in Changwon, Republic of Korea, from 10-21 October 2011. This issue of UNCCD News reflects on the major outcomes of COP10, which will be remembered as the session that brought crucial innovations both in the actions proposed and the way parties fulfil their roles as stakeholders in the UNCCD process. In Changwon, we brought together the pieces that will enable the engine called science to move the UNCCD process forward. We also dealt with knotty issues of institutional governance, but the COP’s high-level segment showed an unmatched level of political will which resulted in a renewed spirit of international cooperation.

The host country of COP10, the Republic of Korea, has impressively demonstrated its support for consensus building on complex issues surrounding knowledge management, programme review and policy development. The Changwon Initiative, which it launched at COP10, aims to further advance the implementation of the UNCCD’s 10-year Strategy. I pay tribute to the tremendous effort made by the Republic of Korea, and sincerely hope that other countries and the international community as a whole will follow suit by doing their utmost to reinforce actions to implement the Convention.

Aiming to gain more recognition and support for global action towards sustainable land management, the new Land for Life Award was launched during COP10. This award is for the 21st century heroes who are conserving the land and preventing its degradation against all odds of life. The winners of the Award will be announced at the World Day to Combat Desertification on 17 June 2012.

Bringing the business community on board was another dimension of COP10. The business sector is part of the problem, accelerating land degradation and desertification, but it can also be a greater part of the solution by advancing land stewardship in the transition towards a green economy, sustainable development, food security and poverty eradication. The Sustainable Land Management Business Forum underlined in Changwon that the private sector’s involvement in sustainable land management is vital for ensuring the future of productive lands worldwide.

The outcome of the Business Forum further inspired us to send a strong message to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which is scheduled for June 2012. If the international community talks about sustainability, it needs to address the severe threat that desertification, land degradation and drought pose to sustainable development. Their direct impacts – such as famine, water scarcity, increased carbon emissions and political instability – are often still being ignored. Efforts to enhance the poor’s adaptation and resilience to climate change and biodiversity loss cannot be successful without addressing DLDD. So we intend to make it clear, during the lead-up to Rio+20, that sustainable land management is a cornerstone of the green economy.

Sustainable land management is a cornerstone of the green economy

As we head towards Rio+ 20, I urge the international community to adopt the goal of a land- degradation-neutral world at the Rio+20 Summit. It is imperative that we aim to maintain a real balance between the amount of land that is degraded every year, and the degraded land that is recovered. Today, over two billion hectares of degraded land offer potential for rehabilitation, yet there is little investment towards its restoration. Agreeing on the international goal of a land-degradation-neutral world would also help drive action on the ground. Then, success stories could offer hope elsewhere, too: the regreening initiatives and evergreen agriculture practised in West Africa or holistic rangeland management in East and Southern Africa, for instance, could be scaled up and scaled out.

Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary


COP10 sets UNCCD’s course to 2013 and beyond

The tenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) has given the UNCCD a clear direction for moving ahead in the next two years. The Conference, held in Changwon, Republic of Korea, from 10 to 21 October 2011, affirmed that the UNCCD can count on high-level political support. COP10 also advanced the steps initiated at COP9 to create a solid scientific foundation on issues of desertification, land degradation and drought.  

This was the first UNCCD Conference of the Parties to take place in Asia since the Convention came into force 15 years ago. More people in Asia are affected by desertification, land degradation and drought than on any other continent. Worldwide, 1.5 billion people directly depend on degrading land for their livelihoods, and on the ecosystems affected by land degradation. The outcomes of COP10 showed a renewed commitment by the international community to reverse desertification, land degradation and drought and to work towards a land-degradation neutral world – not only politically, but also economically, scientifically and institutionally. “The commitment shown during the Conference was truly inspiring,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja said after COP10.

The Conference was attended by around 6,000 people, including more than 80 ministers, deputy ministers and civil society representatives, as well as nearly 100 business representatives. Delegates representing 161 Parties negotiated and adopted 40 decisions.

An agenda for far-reaching decisions

During COP10, the UNCCD parties took an important step by agreeing a set of tools to measure the impact of their work, a first for the three Rio Conventions.

In another area, the UNCCD is keenly following in the footsteps of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions. These Conventions receive scientific advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) respectively, whereas the UNCCD has yet to establish a comparable mechanism.

Although no specific institution was agreed at COP10, all UNCCD stakeholders remained united behind the decision taken two years earlier that policy advice and innovation must be based on sound science. For that, the establishment of a credible scientific authority is crucial. Policy can drive Convention issues up the agenda and further their implementation, but it is science that stands behind all three Conventions, providing facts, analyses and recommendations for action. “We need an institutional arrangement to coordinate and foster knowledge and make knowledge more widely available on desertification, land degradation and drought issues,” added Antonio Rocha Magalhães, Chair of the tenth Committee on Science and Technology. Delegates cleared the way for the UNCCD to consider establishing this type of mechanism. They decided to “set up an ad hoc working group ... to further discuss the options for the provision of scientific advice focusing on desertification, land degradation and drought issues, taking into account the regional approach of the UNCCD.”

Science stands behind all three Rio Conventions, providing facts, analyses and recommendations for action.

COP10 not only looked at the big picture, but also resolved a number of institutional issues to streamline its operations. Thus, delegates brought the longstanding discussion about the institutional set-up of the Global Mechanism (GM) to an end and reached a decision on a new governance structure. In future, the accountability and legal representation of the GM will be transferred from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to the UNCCD Secretariat. In addition to implementing this reform, the Secretariat, in 2012 and 2013, will put its work programme into action, which COP10 had approved. The budget available to the Secretariat in 2012 and 2013 will be close to the current level of 16 million euros.

As DLDD is closely connected with other global challenges such as climate change, food security and gender justice, COP10 also adopted frameworks that will enable the parties to take these issues into consideration and follow a mainstreaming approach.

The private sector has a vital role to play

The business community also committed to the implementation of the UNCCD’s 10-year Strategy. At the inaugural session of the Sustainable Land Management Business Forum, founded in parallel to COP10, nearly 100 business leaders declared their support to combat land degradation and restore productive lands. The Forum is designed as a private sector-led initiative and voluntary action platform.

With more than 12 million hectares of productive land lost to desertification and drought every year, the private agricultural and food production sector faces a serious challenge. The decrease in productive land coincides with an increased demand to produce 70 per cent more food than today in order to feed a predicted world population of 9 billion people by 2050. “This prospect clearly reveals the necessity to involve the private sector in all efforts to ensure a healthy future of productive land around the world. Therefore, I would like to encourage businesses to adopt a precautionary approach to land management and to move towards zero net land degradation,” said Luc Gnacadja.

“It is a necessity to involve the private sector in all efforts to ensure a healthy future of productive land.”
(Luc Gnacadja)

NGO participation at COP10: an enriching partnership

The participation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has become an integral part of the UNCCD’s Conferences of the Parties. In Changwon, they were invited to present and discuss their views in an open dialogue session. They focused on five issues which they want the COP to address further:

  • - gender mainstreaming to ensure sustainable land management and to combat
    desertification effectively;
  • - enhancing adaptation for sustainable land management;
  • - the opportunities and challenges of partnerships;
  • - a holistic approach to funding sustainable land management; and
  • - land grabbing.

The road to COP11

For the next two years, the Republic of Korea will hold the Presidency of the Conference of the Parties. With the Changwon Initiative, the country is committed to working towards a paradigm shift for the attainment of the global target of zero net land degradation. Dr Don Koo Lee, Minister of the Korea Forest Service and President of COP10, presents his views in more detail in the interview included in this issue of UNCCD News.

The new Changwon Initiative: towards tangible targets

Setting up a strategy is one thing. Putting it into action usually turns out to be a much more challenging task. This is why the Government of Korea launched the Changwon Initiative during COP10 to serve as a support pillar for the UNCCD Strategy in all efforts to implement the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.  

The Initiative is meant to embed the Convention firmly in an action-oriented approach. It will focus on critical strategic issues, such as the adoption of tangible targets for implementing the UNCCD. The founders of the Initiative are positive that, for instance, it might lead to an agreement which translates the overarching vision of a land-degradation-neutral world into targets aiming at “zero net land degradation”.

“This Initiative will be a new landmark in the UNCCD process.”
(Don Koo Lee, Minister of the Korea Forest Service)

“I believe that that this Initiative will be a new landmark in the UNCCD process by fully capitalising the potentials of the process and galvanising stakeholders into action based on solid partnerships,” says Don Koo Lee, Minister of the Korea Forest Service and President of COP10. The Changwon Initiative comprises three components:

  • - Enhancing the scientific process of the UNCCD
  • The Initiative will support current efforts aimed at encouraging all UNCCD stakeholders/parties to agree on specific targets for the implementation of the UNCCD Strategy. It will also help to refine the set of impact indicators for monitoring and assessing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) processes. Moreover, it has offered to support decision-making on future channels to provide scientific advice to the UNCCD.
  • - Mobilising additional resources and facilitating partnership arrangements
  • The prospects of achieving the UNCCD’s long-term objectives largely depend on the ability of affected countries to mobilise the necessary human, institutional, scientific, technological and financial resources. This is why the Initiative is committed to supporting processes for the alignment of National Action Programmes (NAPs). It will also strengthen preventive policies and action to mitigate the effects of dust and sand storms.
  • Sustainable cooperation is needed to produce synergies with climate change and biodiversity processes at a national level. The same is true for sustainable land management: People can learn so much from each other in their efforts to make responsible use of the Earth’s soils – either through South-South or through South-North cooperation.
  • Finally, the Changwon Initiative provides opportunities for greater engagement of the business community in the UNCCD’s overall implementation process. The private sector is currently not sufficiently involved in the UNCCD, although desertification and land degradation pose major threats to this sector. On the other hand, areas at risk of desertification offer many untapped opportunities for investment, e.g. in renewable energies, ecotourism and food production. The Sustainable Land Management Business Forum held in conjunction with COP10 in Changwon was a first step by the Initiative towards greater awareness and more participation by the business community.
  • - Supporting a global framework for the promotion of best practices
  • The Changwon Initiative’s stakeholders are committed to conveying a strong message to the world that drylands are assets and offer opportunities for solving some of the major global, national and local challenges. In this regard, the establishment of the Land for Life Award, which is supported by the Initiative, is expected to provide further impetus for the process.

What will be the next steps? At COP10, the high-level segment invited the Bureau of COP10 to begin operationalising the Initiative. UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja welcomes the move: “Such a political initiative holds the potential for focused actions that aim at making a difference on the ground and contribute to improving the livelihoods of people living in ecosystems prone to desertification, land degradation and drought.”

Drylands are assets and offer opportunities for solving some of the major global, national and local challenges


Republic of Korea: No drylands – but a champion in reversing land degradation

Don Koo Lee, Ph. D., President of the UNCCD COP10, has been Minister of the Korea Forest Service since February 2011. Before this appointment, he was a professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Seoul National University for almost thirty years. As a renowned expert in forest sciences, he served as President of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) from 2006 to 2010 and has been a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry since 2003.

1. What has been the impact of COP10 on Korea’s commitment to combating desertification, land degradation and drought?

The Republic of Korea is a perfect example to demonstrate that addressing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) can be a first step to eradicating poverty and promoting economic growth. Behind the success of reforestation and economic growth lay the consensus among Korean people on the importance of restoring forests as a prerequisite for economic development and the active participation of people from all walks of life. As the country has given national policy priority to DLDD issues since the 1960s, it is now enjoying diverse ecosystem services, including reduced disasters, enhanced biodiversity, secured water resources and dense forests.

Despite the fact that the Republic of Korea has no deserts and drylands, it offered to host the UNCCD COP10 – to many people’s surprise. Yet the Convention has had a positive impact nationally as it has helped to change Koreans’ viewpoint on DLDD issues, quite apart from the UNCCD-specific outcomes. In the run-up to the Conference, a variety of TV programmes were broadcast on the harsh reality in Africa’s drylands. These programmes not only heightened people’s awareness, but also prompted fundraising events to provide aid.

The Government is determined to increase financial assistance and share its experiences and know-how on successful reforestation with affected countries to help them enhance their capacity-building and resilience to DLDD. I expect the Changwon Initiative to support these objectives.

2. Korea has invested a great deal in its afforestation programme. How would you rate its success?

After the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, the Republic of Korea had experienced nationwide land degradation due to indiscriminate deforestation coupled with high population growth. Against this background and being aware that social stability and economic development cannot be achieved without reforestation, the Government made reforestation a top priority. It provided alternative fuels to discourage people from cutting down trees for firewood, imposed strict restrictions on access to the mountains, and launched a campaign to highlight the value of forests. Other afforestation activities included developing forestation and reforestation technology, raising awareness of the necessity to restore forests, prioritising national development strategies, encouraging participation by stakeholders and local residents, and enhancing capacity-building and good governance.

During this process, the tree-planting project developed into a nationwide campaign and encouraged participation regardless of social standing. The Republic of Korea can be proud of what it has achieved: successful reforestation helped to reduce the frequency of forest disasters and gave people hope. Now, Koreans are enjoying various ecosystem services from forests, including clean water, carbon sequestration and storage, preservation of biodiversity and recreation, as well as healthcare and healing. Moreover, ‘green jobs’ are being generated through expanded programmes, such as forest tending for the improvement of forest health and adaptation to climate change.

3. How can the Republic of Korea serve as a role model in its efforts to combat DLDD?

It would be very helpful for other countries to learn how the country brought about comprehensive systemic changes in the ecosystem, economy and society and understand the driving forces behind this success. In terms of both strategy and technology, Korea’s case could be applied to many places where people’s livelihoods have been threatened by human-induced destruction of forests and vegetation.

I hope the Republic of Korea can serve as a role model for developing countries which are still suffering from the vicious cycle of DLDD and poverty. In order to disseminate our knowledge and expertise effectively, the Government plans to expand education and capacity-building programmes through the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization (AFoCO) and the Changwon Initiative. The AFoCO is expected to promote forestry cooperation in Asia, while the Changwon Initiative envisions a ‘Greening Drylands Partnership’ among developing countries, including Africa.

4. Which impact did COP 10 have for other Asian countries?

While every continent has its own unique and varied ecosystems, Asia’s are even more vast and diverse. Unlike other environmental issues, including climate change, biodiversity loss and deforestation, Asia has experienced difficulties in reaching a regional consensus on the gravity of desertification in drylands and the necessity to act against it.

DLDD issues in Asia are as serious as in Africa, and its degraded area amounts to 370 million hectares compared to 320 million hectares in Africa. In countries such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in particular, more than 90 per cent of the land is degraded. It is true that although suffering from serious land degradation, many Asian countries have so far remained passive in the UNCCD process under the pretext that they do not have drylands or deserts.

However, I believe that the UNCCD COP10 has helped to raise awareness of DLDD and its profile in Asia, mainly through various side-events. It made people aware that DLDD is not just ‘a problem affecting African people’, but ‘our common concern’ to be dealt with through concerted actions in the context of sustainable ecosystem and economic development.

5. Which future role do you see for the Changwon Initiative?

I believe that the Changwon Initiative will help to breathe new life into the UNCCD process. As the Changwon Initiative is complementary to the implementation of the UNCCD and its ‘Ten-year Strategic Plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention’ (The Strategy), it will play an important role in facilitating and accelerating the implementation of the COP decisions. Since the components of the Changwon Initiative are long-held critical issues for the Convention, its successful implementation will establish a solid platform for the UNCCD not only to deliver on the objectives of the Convention and the Strategy, but also to advance beyond the Strategy.

If it is a success, the Changwon Initiative will contribute to the UNCCD by becoming a global authority on scientific and technical knowledge about DLDD, enhancing the scientific process, and facilitating the mobilisation of additional resources and partnership arrangements. Also, as one of the pillars of the Changwon Initiative, the ‘Land for Life Award’ will help raise awareness of the importance of sustainable land management (SLM), and encourage cooperation on SLM initiatives at all levels.

It is true that the Changwon Initiative needs further development and elaboration in order to guide country parties and other stakeholders toward accomplishing our common goals. As emphasised during COP10, the Changwon Initiative is not just Korea’s initiative but ‘our Initiative’. Thus, the Government is very pleased to invite all country parties and stakeholders to join forces and actively engage in developing and implementing the follow-up measures to the Changwon Initiative.

6. How do you see the UNCCD developing in the next few years? Which developments are encouraging, and which issues need further impetus?

We have a long way to go before fully achieving the objectives of the Convention. Compared to the other Rio conventions, the UNCCD is making slow progress. More specifically, the UNCCD agenda is focused mostly on issues relating to how to operationalise and organise the Convention, rather than how to address emerging issues or develop programmes to enhance the effectiveness of the Convention’s implementation. I think this stems from the low international profile of DLDD issues as well as insufficient mobilisation of resources necessary for the implementation of the Convention. I expect the Changwon Initiative to contribute a great deal – but more support is required for research and development, focusing on how to mainstream DLDD issues into policies.

Admittedly, the UNCCD has not attracted the international attention that it deserves, compared to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, the international community is now increasingly recognising the vital importance of addressing DLDD and its interlinkage with emerging global concerns, including climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty and food insecurity. Given that the UNCCD is the main UN Convention dealing with DLDD, it needs to be placed on an equal footing with the UNFCCC and the CBD.

7. Which path should the international community pursue to achieve its goal of a land-degradation-neutral world?

The international community should encourage political leaders around the world to recognise the gravity of DLDD issues and make a firm commitment to a land-degradation-neutral world. It is true that the Strategy contains key issues to be dealt with and maps out the path to be followed by country parties in order to address DLDD. However, the international community has not shown strong political will, nor has it agreed on a target for achieving a land-degradation-neutral world within a specific time frame. The level of resource mobilisation is not sufficient to implement the Strategy either.

I hope that the international community will capitalise on Rio+20 as a chance to mainstream DLDD issues and move towards global target-setting for a land-degradation-neutral world, to be achieved not just by restoring degraded land but by transforming the regional, national and international socioeconomic system towards sustainable development. The debate about the ‘green economy’ at Rio+20 should therefore include and reflect DLDD issues.

Land for Life Award: UNCCD calls for applications


The UNCCD recently established the Land for Life Award, a new prize that will recognise innovation and excellence in sustainable land management, particularly collaborative efforts that promote the natural health and production capacity of the Earth’s soils.

The award will be given for outstanding initiatives which reduce land degradation through sustainable land management, political leadership, policy, business, advocacy campaigns or scientific findings.

With the launch of the award, the UNCCD and its partners aim to raise awareness of the global benefits of soil regeneration and preservation, and demonstrate that the drylands can be part of the solution to pressing problems of our time, such as global climate change.

The winners will be announced on the World Day to Combat Desertification on 17 June 2012 and honoured at the 11th session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention. They will be selected by an expert jury which will grant awards from a total prize fund of up to USD 100,000.

Nominations are welcome from individuals, businesses, research and academic institutions, local governments, journalists and civil society organisations. The deadline for applications is 29 February 2012. The application form and background information are available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Members of the jury

Representing civil society:

  • - Dr Vandana Shiva, a renowned seed sovereignty activist and
    founder Navdanya International in India;
  • - Professor Mick Dodson, a prominent indigenous land rights advocate and
    recent Australian of the Year; and
  • - Ms Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International and former Minister
    of the Environment in Ecuador.

From the field of academia and science:

  • - Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director, International Institute for
    Sustainable Development in the UK;
  • - Dr Mary Seely, Founder, Desert Research Foundation of Namibia;
  • - Dr Dennis Garrity, UNCCD Drylands Ambassador and
    former Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya;
  • - Professor Joachim von Braun, Director of the Center for
    Development Research in Germany; and
  • - Dr Naomi Kipuri, a Maasai anthropologist and Executive Director
    of the Arid Lands Institute in Kenya.

From the inter-governmental side:

  • - the Minister of the Korea Forest Service, Dr Don Koo Lee, who is also
    currently the president of the tenth session of the Conference of
    the Parties (COP10) to the UNCCD; and
  • - Mr Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD.


Yellow dust – a long-distance traveller


Every spring, North-East Asia experiences the effects of desertification – and yet the region has no drylands. So where does it come from? There’s a simple answer to the puzzle: these effects are caused by wind erosion, which transports dust and fine sand particles from arid and semi-arid regions in China and Mongolia to countries such as the Republic of Korea and Japan. The sand even travels as far as the United States and Canada.

This Asian dust phenomenon is a serious transnational desertification problem due to the damage it causes, not only in the source countries, primarily Mongolia and China. In the Republic of Korea, for instance, people suffer from respiratory, eye and cardiovascular diseases caused by the sand dust. Health hazards significantly increase if toxic materials are attached to the fine dust.


Agriculture is severely impacted by dust as well. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), deposited on farmland, the dust reduces yields by causing direct damage to crops and delaying plant development. The productivity of livestock also decreases. The dust worsens soil erosion and accelerates the process of land degradation and desertification. It fills irrigation canals with sediment, affects transportation routes, and decreases water quality in rivers and streams.

The dust also impacts on various industries. In the Republic of Korea, retail sales decrease by about 20 per cent while the dust is falling, flights have to be cancelled, certain processes in the shipbuilding industry (e.g. painting) are disrupted and the defect rate in glass manufacture increases. A single dust event on 21 March 2002 in the country caused economic costs of around USD 20 million. According to a study on the structure and political dynamics of regulating yellow sand in North-East Asia by Whasun Jho and Hyunju Lee, China estimates the direct damage caused by the yellow sand to be around USD 90 to 311 million per year.

Dust worsens soil erosion and accelerates the process of land degradation and desertification.

Yellow dust is one of the environmental phenomena which have considerably increased over recent decades. Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, experienced approximately four days of yellow dust per year in the 1980s, but since 2000, this has increased to more than twelve days per year. In addition, the dust not only comes from the Gobi Desert and Chinese Loess Plateau, but also from Manchuria.


Tackling yellow dust in the short and long term

There are many approaches to preventing and mitigating dust and sand storms. Some are short-term, such as forecasting and early warning; others have a long-termer focus, such as rehabilitating and improving the land surface in the source area. Long-term efforts to prevent damage from yellow dust have to start – quite literally – on the ground, where the grains of sand move up into the atmosphere. One idea is to aggregate the sand with the help of microorganisms so that the wind will not carry it away. “This method has been tested dozens of times. [...] Tests, jointly performed with the Korean National Weather Bureau, and the tests in Liaoning, China, confirmed that this method could yield successful results,” says Bu Kyung Lee from the BK Desert Fertilization Research Institute in the Republic of Korea.

However, further research on dust emission mechanisms, effect assessment and dust control within a framework of international cooperation are needed, according to Tottori University in Japan, which recently launched a dust-related project in degraded drylands of East Asia. During the course of this project, “we will establish research sites in China and Mongolia and study the process of dust emission and various mitigation techniques. We will also work in cooperation with medical and agricultural faculties at Tottori University to conduct monitoring and animal experiments,” explained Atsushi Tsunekawa, Professor at the Arid Land Research Center of Tottori University, Japan.

A transboundary challenge

Because yellow dust – or as many say, Asian dust – is a transboundary problem, it can only be tackled through a concerted international effort between affected countries, which must focus on data collection, testing and implementing countermeasures, monitoring and early warning. The UNCCD, together with the Asian Development Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), four other international organisations and China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Mongolia, undertook an early major effort in this respect by implementing a joint project on the prevention and control of dust and sand storms in North-East Asia from 2003 to 2006.

This transboundary problem can only be tackled through a concerted international effort between affected countries.

In 2007, the World Meteorological Organization’s Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (WMO SDS-WAS) was launched to improve capabilities for more reliable sand and dust storm forecasts. Its aim is “to enhance the ability of countries to deliver timely and quality sand and dust storm forecasts, observations, information and knowledge to users through an international partnership of research and operational communities,” explains Soon-Ung Park from the WMO SDS-WAS Asia Node in China. The project works across disciplines as it provides real-time SDS products, includes modelling research and observation groups and integrates communities of practice like agricultural users. In addition, other networks have been created to address the yellow dust phenomenon. China, Mongolia and the Republic of Korea, for instance, have established a Dust Monitoring Network, which collects data for monitoring, forecast and research purposes.

A close link to soil degradation and desertification

All these efforts show that dust and sand storms are no longer understood simply as natural seasonal phenomena, according to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. Instead, they are a serious environmental problem closely related to soil degradation, caused for instance by rapidly expanding overgrazing, increasing conversion of land for agricultural use, deforestation and desertification. So it is vital to concentrate on rehabilitating and improving the land surface in order to mitigate the damage caused by dust and sand storms. Although research into their impact on land has been intensified in recent years, very little is known, even today, about their effects on oceanic ecosystems.

Sand and dust storms – a global phenomenon


Sand and dust storms are not an Asian phenomenon. They occur in all arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Probably, the most famous sand storms occured in the Southern Plains of the United States in the 1930s and lasted for eight years. Sustained drought conditions and poor land management practices that left topsoil susceptible to the forces of the wind were mainly responsible for this disaster, called the ‘dust bowl’, which forced millions of people to leave their home and move westwards to California. The ‘dust bowl’ has also inspired one of the classics of American literature. In 1939, John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, a novel about the Joad family, who lose their Oklahoma farm to dust and avaricious bankers. With the successful movie adaptation starring Henry Fonda, the ‘dust bowl’ will be remembered for many more decades to come.

Despite some comparable weather conditions in the American South, the ‘dust bowl’ will not reccur again, meteorologists say. However, in other areas of the world such as North-East Asia, sand and dust storms remain a serious threat that needs to be tackled.

Yellow dust: facts and figures

  • - It is not the real deserts which are the major source of dust storms: the desert margins are, more frequently, the principal source of dust storms which periodically (or regularly) sweep across the landscape, wreaking havoc as they roll by.
  • - Coarse dust particles (31-62 μm) can travel up to 320 km from their source, medium dust particles (16-31 μm) can travel up to 1600 km, and fine dust particles (16 μm) can be transported globally.
  • - Dust storms evacuate material from desert surfaces, then deposit it elsewhere and thus contribute to various geomorphological phenomena like desert depressions, wind-fluted bedforms (yardangs) and stone pavements. In general, they play an important role in the denudation of desert surfaces.
  • - The three conditions causing yellow dusts are continuous wind, air current and plenty of dried sand on the surface. The most important causes are desertification and degradation of land, if wind and air currents are regarded as natural conditions or uncontrollable elements.
  • - Research has revealed that the increase in dust outbreaks in the Mongolian grasslands from the 1990s to 2000s is mainly caused by changes in erodibility, which is the susceptibility of soil and land surface to wind erosion (i.e. soil and land surface conditions) instead of erosivity, which is the ability of wind to cause erosion (i.e. surface wind conditions).
  • - Dust in the atmosphere influences the global climate. The dust absorbs and scatters solar radiation and thus affects air temperatures. These changes in atmospheric temperatures and in concentrations of potential condensation nuclei may affect convectional activity and cloud formation, thereby modifying rainfall and possibly intensifying drought conditions.

  • Sources and further reading:

  • Goudie, Andrew S., Middleton, Nicholas J. (2006): Desert Dust in the Global System, Berlin: Springer.
    » Desert Dust in the Global System

  • Korea Forest Service (2011): UNCCD COP10 Website: Definition and causes of yellow dust.
    » Website » unccdcop10.

  • UNCCD, FAO et al. (eds) (2001): Global alarm: dust and sandstorms from the world’s drylands.
    » Publication in English and Chinese

  • Whasun Jho and Hyunju Lee (2009): The structure and polical dynamics of regulating “yellow sand” in Northeast Asia, in: Asian Perspectives, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2009, pp. 41-72.
    » Download article in PDF

  • Yasunori Kurosaki, Masato Shinoda, Masao Mikami and Banzragch Nandintsetseg (2011): Effects of soil and land surface conditions in summer on dust outbreaks in the following spring in a Mongolian grassland, in: SOLA, Vol. 7, pp.69-72. » Download article



Land and soil in the context of a green economy for sustainable development, food security and poverty eradication
The submission of the UNCCD Secretariat to the preparatory process for the Rio+20 Conference
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Land for Life: Securing our common future
This book is a joint publication of the Global Environment Facility and the UNCCD Secretariats with contributions from the GoodPlanet Foundation and the Government of the Republic of Korea. It explains how sustainable land management practices help to shape a sustainable future for people and the planet by demonstrating how human ingenuity largely drives innovations in soil, land, water and vegetation management around the world.
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The forgotten billion
Initially unveiled for consultation last year, the UNCCD/UNDP report, “The Forgotten Billion: MDG Achievement in the Drylands,” was formally launched at the UNCCD Conference of the Parties (COP10). The joint assessment report says that “in certain regions, human well-being, particularly female adult literacy and child survival, decline in parallel with the aridity gradient," which is related to water scarcity. It stresses development challenges faced by people in the drylands and states that "it will be impossible to halve the world's poverty and hunger by 2015 unless life is improved for the poor people of the drylands.”
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Global drylands: A United Nations system-wide response
This report sets out a common vision and agenda for UN-wide action on drylands management and the UN’s role in addressing climate change and food security through a positive development and investment approach.
Prepared by 18 UN agencies through the Environment Management Group (EMG), the report is a milestone by the UN system in supporting the implementation of the UNCCD’s 10-year Strategic Plan by ‘delivering as one’ in the areas of environment, development and humanitarian assistance by bringing together the UN’s expertise, operational and coordination capabilities, and its advocacy role at the country, regional and global levels.
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Declaration of Niamey: The drylands towards Rio+20. A global challenge and African focus
Scientists and policy-makers from Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and France have called for better scientific cooperation and capacity building in the drylands with a focus on putting the drylands on the agenda of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in June 2012.
Participants at the Fight Against Desertification in Africa conference in Niger (24-25 October 2011) invited world leaders who will take part in the Rio+20 Summit to make creative decisions to promote sustainable development in dryland areas.
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About the UNCCD

Developed as a result of the Rio Summit, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a unique instrument that has brought attention to the land degradation affecting some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in the world. The UNCCD has 194 Parties (193 countries plus the European Union) and is one of the three so-called “Rio Conventions”, along with the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNCCD is increasingly recognised as an instrument that can make an important contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and poverty reduction.

For more information: Awareness Raising, Communication and Education Unit, UNCCD
Tel (switchboard): + 49 228 815 2800   Fax: + 49 228 815 2898   secretariat@unccd.int

Contact UNCCD News at newsbox@unccd.int


UNCCD News is published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Editor: Susanne Reiff, to the point communication (Email)
Design: Rebus, Paris (Email)
Copyright ©2011 UNCCD (Email)

Photo credits: Contents: Korea Forest Service; UNCCD; mohnd/123rf.com; SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE; Message from the Executive Secretary: UNCCD; Policy: 3x UNCCD; Changwon Initiative: UNCCD; Brian Longmore/Dreamstime.com; Xunbin Pan/Dreamstime.com; Interview: UNCCD; Korea Forest Service; Robert at Picasa/Wikimedia Commons; Land for Life Award: Rozenn Leard/Dreamstime.com; Asian Dust: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE; Wikimedia Commons; U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gabriel S. Weber/Wikimedia Commons, Korea Forest Service; NOAA George E. Marsh Album, Wikimedia Commons; Browsing: Helen Jobson/Dreamstime.com