In 2018, a study funded by the National Science Foundation took a hard look at the history of the Sahara Desert over the past century. They determined that the area of the desert, specifically characterized as the band across Northern Africa which receives less than 100 millimeters of rainfall per year, has grown nearly 16 percent between 1920 and 2013. Their research indicated that at least one third of that increase was due to confirmed human-caused climate change, possibly more.
A major casualty of this expansion is the semi-arid Sahel Region, which stretches from Senegal to Djibouti and defines the southern edge of the desert. Centuries of cultivation have made the climate there very fragile, and dry winds off of the Sahara, unimpeded by natural vegetation–due to clearing for farming or animal grazing–rob the area of both moisture and topsoil. This creeping process, called desertification, replaces arable land with sand and is largely responsible for the Sahel being one of the poorest places on Earth.
On Monday, January 11, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the international project “The Great Green Wall,” has far exceeded its funding expectations. Development banks, national governments, and private donors have pledged a total $14.32 billion – well over the $10 billion goal – toward a project that hopes to plant a 5,000-mile-long, 30-mile-deep border of trees and grasslands between the current edge of the Sahara and the Sahel.
“That’s 100 million hectares restored, 10 million jobs created, 250 million tonnes of carbon captured,” said Macron, at the international biodiversity summit hosted in Paris.
The Great Green Wall actually began in 2010 and is considered to be approximately 15 percent complete. When finished, it will be the single largest conservation effort on Earth and will span 21 countries.