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Africa: Call for strong leadership to battle climate change
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Wangari Maathai urges African leaders to address climate change 


NAIROBI, 23 May 2007 (IRIN) - African leaders should champion the awareness of climate change and the threat it poses to the region among the continent’s population, urged Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

"The threat of rising seas and melting snow all seems very far [away] to people in the continent," said the Kenyan conservationist on 22 May at the UN Environment Program (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi. "Climate change needs to be seriously taken up by African leaders.”

Maathai expressed concerns about Africa's heightened vulnerability to climate change, citing its close proximity to two of the world’s biggest deserts - the Sahara to the north and the Kalahari to the south – and the extensive clearing of the Congo forest.

"It is unfortunate that African leaders are interfering with forests. This is not something we can easily trade away," said Maathai, marking the International Day for Biological Diversity. "We can wish for a good environment, but this will only happen through good leadership.”

Planting for the future

She urged governments to promote tree-planting programmes and meet global recommendations of 10 percent forest cover. "This will translate into 25 trees per acre," she said. "It does not matter whether the trees are planted as a forest or interspersed or whether they are for fruit production or for fuel."

Globally, at least 4.4 million trees are cut down every day and 1.6 billion trees lost every year. World Agroforestry Centre Director General, Dennis Garrity, said one billion of those trees were not replaced.

Garrity said planting the right kind of trees was also important.

Some species lower the water table and cause more problems, meaning small-holders need to be equipped with a knowledge of agroforestry and its effects. This includes information on integrating ‘working’ trees (trees for nutrition, fodder, fuel wood, timber, and medicinal trees) into agriculturally productive landscapes. By so doing, trees not only help redress climate change, but protect biodiversity and sustain livelihoods.

Sustainable livestock

Experts have linked frequent droughts and floods in eastern
Africa to the widespread deforestation in the region, exacerbated in areas where pastoral farming dominates.

Experts have linked frequent droughts and floods in eastern Africa to the widespread deforestation in the region, exacerbated in areas where pastoral farming dominates.

"There is a need to plant trees in these places because a poor environment will not support grazing land. Livestock-keeping communities should consider reducing the sizes of their herds to sustainable levels," Maathai said.

UNEP and partner conservationist groups launched 'The Billion Tree Campaign' in November 2006, aiming to plant a billion trees around the world in 2007.

Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director, said the project had surpassed its original target, with more than a billion trees pledged and 13 million already planted.

Article from IRIN humanitarian news and analysis