The One Planet summit for Biodiversity, which took place in Paris on January 11, 2021, brings together Heads of State, international organizations, NGOs, financial institutions and others. The ambition is to make concrete commitments in order to preserve or restore the planet’s biodiversity. At the heart of the debates, it is in particular to relaunch the Great Green Wall, what some qualify as “white elephant”, a utopia which will never see the light of day.
The project is indeed colossal. The objective is to revegetate, by 2030, 100 million hectares in the Sahel, on a strip 7,500 km long and 15 km wide running across the continent from west to east, from Senegal to Djibouti.
“A mosaic of trees, meadows, vegetation and plants to restore degraded land and help the people of the region to produce adequate food, create jobs and promote peace”, enthusiastically announces the dedicated United Nations site. A weapon to counter the disastrous advance of the desert. The realization of this wall, the project aims, must transform the lives of 100 million inhabitants, create ten million green jobs and, not inconsiderably, trap 250 million tons of carbon.
The idea was launched in 2007 by a handful of African states, then reinforced by the African Union and the international community. But the progress report, presented in September 2020 by the United Nations, is hardly encouraging. The newspaper The world even talks about “Sahelian mirage”. Barely 4% of the target for 2030 has been reached. That is 4 million hectares of land developed out of the 100 million of the program, half of which was carried out by Ethiopia alone and its ambitious reforestation program.
The very utopian vision is opposed from the outset to the reality on the ground. Of the eleven member states of the pan-African agency carrying the projectt, ten are among the least developed states on the planet. Apart from Senegal and Ethiopia, which are leaders, the other states have invested little. Clearly, the money is lacking and you have to rely on international funding to carry out the project.
If the average precipitation (between 100 and 400 mm per year) is used to define the territories concerned, the area expands to 150 million hectares. The countries most concerned are Niger, Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Countries plagued by constant insecurity which have other concerns than carrying out ecological actions, especially in the midst of conflict zones. Thus, Mali has only reforested 6,000 hectares of its territory.
Some also question the technical aspect of the realization. “Large reforestation operations, which are expensive and require significant labor requirements, are only a partial and inefficient response to the multidimensional problem of desertification”, estimated in 2018 Ronan Mugelé in the newsletter of the association of French geographers.
The Great Green Wall is now understood less in terms of reforestation than of sustainable land management. Critics have borne. Planting trees is not an end in itself, especially since we do not know the success rate of these plantations. From now on, we are more interested in water management, cultivation practices, and the re-cultivation of degraded lands.
The report also points a certain dispersion of the aid provided. Countries reported receiving a total of $ 149 million in external funding, while individual member state contributions reported amount to around $ 53.4 million. Clearly, States have invested in programs that are more relevant to them than those strictly concerning the Great green wall.
In 2015, during the Paris climate accords, four billion dollars were pledged to finance the project. Today, we are far from the mark. Only 200 million have been mobilized since the launch of the project.
More serious, the Great green wall seems to lack piloting. Everyone has their own subsidy and the recipient states complain of being subjected to choices of actions that escape them. The One Planet Summit intends to remind donors of their promises.
But in the current security context, the priority is clearly elsewhere for most of the Sahel countries. Especially since it is difficult to carry out projects in areas that these States no longer control or almost.