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Now is the time to invest in drylands

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Climate change is already happening and represents one of the greatest environmental and societal threats facing the planet and our own existence. With the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in force this month and the skeptics who threaten its implementation, the time for bold and unprecedented action has never been more critical. For the livelihoods of the so-called "forgotten billion", who live in drylands, on the margins of environmental sustainability, and where the harshest climate change scenarios are the fact of life, such action is vital!

It is expected that drylands will expand by 11 percent by 2100 due to climate change. Fifteen out of 24 ecosystem services are already in decline, making drylands increasingly unproductive. About 10 percent of drylands are already degraded, and more land will continue to degrade in the upcoming years. Yet, drylands and agricultural research in drylands do not receive much attention or investment from the wider community of scientific research, development agencies, policy makers or the private sector. This is in part due to huge misconceptions or oversimplifications that ignore the complexity of dryland agricultural systems, in terms of both biophysical and socio-economic factors, and the valuable things we can learn about climate change mitigation and adaptation from examining the complex interactions of these factors in drylands.  

The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems and its 450+ partners, whose combined research efforts are led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), have been working to dispel common dryland misconceptions with scientific evidence and concrete solutions for tackling development challenges, including climate change in drylands and other ecosystems. To mark our engagement at the current UN Climate Change Conference (#COP22) in Marrakech, I take this opportunity to highlight some of the work we have been doing in this regard:

In addition, I encourage you to check out and come join us at our various COP22 activities listed here in order to discuss concrete science-based solutions and opportunities for collaboration and partnership together!

Despite its challenges, climate change represents an opportunity for reshaping our thinking on the kind growth and progress we want to see in our world and the role that agriculture can play in this regard through inclusive processes, sustainable investments, and smarter management of our resources. Our integrated systems approach helps examine the interplay of such complex factors in order to articulate evidence based-solutions for sustainable development, growth, and opportunities for all members of society in rural dryland communities, especially the more vulnerable women and youth populations.  

To combat climate change and the terrifying scenarios that come with it, and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals we can  no longer ignore or overlook dryland communities as they hold a central role in the wellbeing of our planet and our future. Broad partnerships and continuing investment to support climate change research and development programmes in drylands are critical and necessary, and likely to offer significant returns globally in terms of reducing political instability, conflicts, forced migration and dealing with adverse effects of climate change.

About the author

Dr. Richard Thomas is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.