Sahara Forest Project receives international endorsement

Annicken Vargel/Bellona

Publish date: December 15, 2009

Written by: Ola Innset

Translated by: Charles Digges

COPENHAGEN – The Sahara Forest Project, which aims for sustainable fresh water and food production from seawater, was presented today by Bellona, one of the participants in the project, at a side event at the UN climate summit that was attended by Former Norwegian Prime Minister and UN special climate envoy, Gro Harlem Brundtland.

Bellona is one of four partners in the Sahara Forest Project, which combines CO2 storage with the production of biomass and fresh water in desert areas. Today, a new feasibility study on the project was presented to the audience here in Copenhagen – and the hunt for funding is now underway.

Financing needed

“I believe the Sahara Forest Project deserves some form of public financing in addition to private financing to see if we can release the potential for food and clean water in arid areas of the world,” said Brundtland, “as well as increased production of clean energy and CO2 uptake through re-vegetation of the desert.”

Brundtland was one of the six panellists who debated the project after the presentation.. The discussion was led by Jose María Figueres, Costa Rica’s former president, head of the Global Observatory and a member of the Club de Madrid of former heads of democratic states.

Restorative growth

As Brundtland launched the concept of “sustainable development” in the UN report “Our Common Future” in 1987, so was launched the concept of “restorative growth” with the Sahara Forest Project.”  

In Caesar’s time, there were forests in the Sahara,” said Michael Pawlyn of Exploration Architecture, one of the other four partners in the project. “Previously agriculture spread to use up the world’s resources, but by imitating many of nature’s processes, we can drive the agriculture while rebuilding nature.”


Pawlyn was central to building the Eden Project in England and is one of the world’s pre-eminent experts of sustainable architecture and bio-mimesis, the imitation of nature.

The other to partners from outside Bellona are the engineering firm Max Fordham, and SeaWater Greenhouse, which is behind the invention of the same name. This is a greenhouse that converts salt water to fresh water, and is a central part of the Sahara Forest Project.


The Sahara Fresh Project is briefly off producing biomass in the desert using only salt water. The facility also includes solar panels and biomass can be used to produce both electricity and food while the humidity around the planet will lead to new vegetation growing on the desert landscape. The plant will also produce fresh water, and provide much needed jobs in poor nations.

Download information on the Sahara Forest Project here.

Valuable idea

“This idea is valuable in the times of a hot overcrowded plant that must decarbonise quickly. The Sahara Project has all the right elements and deserves much attention,” said Olav Kjørven of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) during the panel debate.

Others who participated in the debate were the Global Humanitarian Fund’s Martin Frick, Paul Simpson of CDP Water Disclosure, Rawya Mansour from Ramsco, and Bellona President Hauge.

See a video of the presentation and panel discussion here.