Impact of Climate on Desertification

Mains Marks Booster     5th August 2023        
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Climate plays a crucial role in the process of desertification, which refers to the expansion of desert-like conditions into non-desert areas. Desertification is influenced by a combination of climatic, ecological, and human factors. 

Factors of Climate Impacting Desertification:

  • Aridity: Climate change affects precipitation patterns, increasing dryness and driving desertification, particularly in regions with low rainfall and high evaporation.
  • Droughts: Increasing frequency and severity of droughts due to climate change exacerbate desertification by reducing soil moisture and promoting erosion.
  • Temperature Increase: Rising global temperatures enhance soil moisture deficits through increased evaporation, leading to agricultural land degradation and desertification.
  • Precipitation Patterns: Alterations in rainfall timing, intensity, and distribution can disrupt ecosystems, increasing vulnerability to desertification.
  • Wind Patterns: Climate change can shift wind patterns, escalating desertification through increased sediment transport and soil nutrient loss.
  • Sea-Level Rise: Higher sea levels can cause saltwater intrusion, making agricultural lands unsuitable for cultivation and contributing to desertification.
  • Feedback Loops: Desertification can generate positive feedback loops, reducing local humidity and cloud formation, leading to drier conditions.

Key Reports on Desertification:

  • IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL, 2019): This report identified desertification as a critical issue, affecting as many as 500 million people. The report projected that dryland areas (areas susceptible to desertification) are expected to increase by 10 to 23% by the end of the 21st century due to global warming.
  • IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5, 2014): The AR5 estimated that about 1.5 billion people are affected by desertification, particularly in South and East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It also highlighted that future climate change will increase the risk of desertification, particularly in subtropical regions.
  • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD, 2017): The UNCCD reported that land degradation, leading to desertification, affects 1.3 billion people worldwide. It is also estimated that by 2030, due to desertification and agriculture productivity loss, the global economy stands to lose an estimated USD 23 trillion.

Way Forward: 

Addressing desertification requires a combination of climate change mitigation strategies, sustainable land management practices, reforestation efforts, water conservation, and international cooperation. These efforts aim to restore degraded ecosystems, enhance soil health, promote resilient agricultural practices, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

It's important to note that while climate change is a significant driver of desertification, human activities, such as overgrazing, deforestation, unsustainable land management practices, and inappropriate irrigation methods, often interact with climate factors and accelerate the process.