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Professor proposes rules for drylands

Creative commons  Professor James Reynolds presented a set of guidelines called the Drylands Desertification Paradigm to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertificaiton.
Creative commons Professor James Reynolds presented a set of guidelines called the Drylands Desertification Paradigm to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertificaiton.

A Duke professor has proposed a set of international guidelines for assessing desertification.

James Reynolds, professor of environmental science and biology, presented the Drylands Desertification Paradigm to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification at its Sept. 21 to Oct. 2 conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The paradigm is a set of guidelines to evaluate desertification that Reynolds, director of Phytotron at the Nicholas School of the Environment, helped create. More than 200 scientists representing 150 countries attended the conference.

The DDP combines numerous perspectives, including those ecological and social, to evaluate and address existing desertification problems and future issues. Despite criticism from the scientific community that the UNCCD lacks proper standards for effective action, the delegates did not pass the DDP at the conference.

 “Many of the delegates are simply stumbling around the drylands of their respective countries with blinders on, with little or no appreciation for the importance of a scientific framework to guide science and decision-making for the good of the people being impacted by land degradation,” Reynolds said.

Although the DDP was not approved, Reynolds said he remains “cautiously optimistic,” adding that the DDP has resonated with several delegates.

This was the first time Reynolds and other scientists were able to participate in UNCCD due to the Scientific Conference, a new component introduced this year by the Committee on Science and Technology. The Scientific Conference was created in reaction to criticism that the UNCCD  lacked input from scientists, said Charles F. Hutchinson, professor and director of the Office of Arid Lands Studies at the University of Arizona.

Scientific Conference attendees supported the DDP. Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald, associate professor in the department of environmental engineering and natural resource management at the Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica, has been involved in several workshops testing the DDP’s utility and effectiveness. She said she hopes the UNCCD delegates eventually adopt the paradigm.

“It’s nothing novel and new, it’s just never been put so logically together to tackle desertification,” Huber-Sannwald said. “It’s the right time and the right place to use [the DDP] as a framework.”

Reynolds said the concepts in the DDP are “common sense science, but underlying it is a very strong theoretical foundation that real scientists buy into.”

The paradigm will also help the UNCCD confront multiple facets of the desertification issue, Hutchinson said.

“The DDP allows you to address the social dimension, environmental dimension and climate dimension as one,” he said.

Reynolds’ work on the paradigm was inspired 10 years ago when he was invited to the Center for Integrated Studies of Human Dimensions of Global Change at the National Science Foundation Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

Reynolds said his experience at the NSF Center inspired him to bring the ecosystem and social groups together at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme—a research program that studies global change. The collaboration of perspectives later resulted in “Global Desertification,” a book that Reynolds called the “seeds that led to the paradigm.”

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