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Achieving environment objectives towards sustainable recovery: Addressing land degradation for the achievement of the SDG15 and as leverage for climate solutions Excellencies, Ministers Colleagues, G20 members, and many others, have made a multitude of commitments to restore planetary health. These include targets on climate change, on land degradation, on biodiversity loss. But many of us just need to look out of our windows to see where commitments have gotten us. When I look out of my window in Bonn, I see the rocky riverbed emerging as the Rhine drops lower by the day. What do others see? Drought in Italy’s Po region devastating the country’s breadbasket. Wildfires raging through France, Spain and Portugal, destroying forests, killing cattle. The list goes on. Water and heat stress are driving down Europe’s crop forecasts – at a time when there are major disruptions to global cereal supplies. Energy production has been hit as lower water levels reduce nuclear and hydropower capacity – a problem that is also affecting China, as parts of the Yangtze dry up. Meanwhile, over 40 per cent of the United States faced drought conditions in early August. Flooding in Australia cost the insurance industry billions of dollars. The Horn of Africa is suffering its worst drought in over 40 years, plunging millions into severe hunger and projecting a human cost of a cataclysmic magnitude. Agriculture and the textile industries are significantly affected across the world. Cotton production is seriously affected, including in top producing countries such as India, China, Brazil, the U.S. with dire effects on the economy. Promises and commitments have not gotten us very far and we are in the midst of convergent crises. A crisis of climate change. A crisis of food insecurity. A crisis of water scarcity. A crisis of degraded land. A crisis of declining nature. A crisis of energy. These crises will intensify if we do nothing. By 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought. By 2040, one in four children could live in areas with extreme water shortages. By 2050, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population. We cannot let this future come to pass. We must start acting on commitments, now. This is the focus of the UNCCD: turning commitments into action. This means achieving land-degradation neutrality – including restoring land and helping drought-prone countries put in place drought-smart strategies. The UNCCD supports, for instance, the Great Green Wall initiative, which aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million green jobs in the Sahel by 2030. Likewise the Saudi-led Middle East Green Initiative, aims to back regional nature-based solutions and plant billions of trees. Most recently, the 2.5 billion dollar Abidjan Legacy Programme launched by President Outtara at our 15th Conference of the Parties held in Abidjan under the leadership of Côte D’Ivoire, will help future-proof supply chains while tackling deforestation and climate change. Which brings me to the G20’s Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats, which you launched two years ago. It is now up and running, hosted by the UNCCD Secretariat. We have been working with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to operationalise the Global Initiative to support countries with their restoration efforts. Friends, Please allow me to dig a little deeper into how land restoration can serve as a climate solution, an energy solution, and indeed a solution to many challenges from boosting livelihoods to restoring nature. Protecting and restoring land resources reduces emissions and sequesters carbon. It could provide over one-third of the cost-effective, land-based climate mitigation needed between now and 2030. Ecosystem restoration is one of the quickest ways of boosting natural capital and carbon stocks. Degraded farmlands abandoned worldwide are currently estimated at roughly 30 per cent of global cropland area. Options for bringing these lands back to productive life include rehabilitation for sustainable food and commodity production or rewilding for biodiversity and climate benefits. Restoration is not the only route, however. In Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, the biggest mitigation opportunities involve sustainable intensification practices that avoid ecosystem conversion. Emissions can be reduced by improving the efficiency of inputs such as water, adopting sustainable soil and livestock management practices, shifting towards plant-based diets, and reducing food waste. Food and commodity production systems that use diverse crops, animals and native biodiversity mimic natural processes that increase carbon storage. Such efforts, and many more besides, will reduce emissions. They will also help communities adapt to climate impacts that are already locked in. They will deliver benefits across the whole sustainable development agenda. This includes reducing competition between sectors for scarce water resources – which matters greatly for renewable energy. As I mentioned earlier, rivers running dry spells bad news for hydropower and transport. Slowing climate change is one way to ensure that predictable rainfall feeds rivers and reservoirs, allowing power and agriculture to draw enough water. But there are other ways to unite the nature and energy agendas, such as building renewal energy farms in agricultural landscapes. There are many examples that already show the unification of the agendas in action. In the US, The Silicon Ranch Corporation combines clean electricity generation with carbon sequestration, ecosystem restoration and rural economic revitalization. In 2020, a partnership between White Oak Pastures and Silicon Ranch began regenerative grazing and land management practices on 950 solar farm hectares in southwest Georgia. In China, Astronergy/Chint Solar has transformed abandoned agricultural land into a solar park where crops are grown around solar panels. Over 25 years, the power generation is expected to be 4.9 billion kilowatts, meeting the electricity demands of 400,000 people. In Namibia, a Rangeland Management Policy and Strategy is guiding the restoration of degraded rangelands by targeted bush thinning. Accumulated biomass from thinning is then processed into animal fodder, charcoal, biochar, building material, or wood chips. One assessment suggesting that bush control and biomass utilization could generate net benefits of around USD 3 billion over 25 years, and support 10,000 jobs annually. Friends, All of this goes to say that we don’t just have the commitments in place. We have the solutions at our fingertips. What has been lacking is the will to go beyond the commitment phase – beyond the ad hoc solution here and there, to widespread systemic change. So, today I challenge you to look out the window, or look at the news, and ask yourself a simple question: is this the kind of world I want to live in? The answer can only be “no”. The response can only be to summon up the will to act. I urge you to begin sincerely implementing the G20 initiative’s target of a 50 per cent reduction in degraded land by 2040, but also to make plans to exceed it – both in terms of timeline and scope. I urge you to invest in restoring land, so that it boosts water storage, reverses biodiversity loss and increases food production. To back sustainable agriculture that uses less land, water, and harmful inputs. To start changing society’s unhealthy relationships with food, fodder and fibre. I urge you, above all else, to act. The present is not what we envisioned. But the future is still ours to shape. We must start shaping it now. Thank you.
Bonn, 15 August 2022 – Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), welcomed the announcement of Grenada’s former minister for climate resilience and the environment Simon Stiell as the next Executive Secretary to lead the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Stiell’s appointment was announced earlier today by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres following the endorsement by the UNFCCC Bureau. Ibrahim Thiaw, who in addition to his ongoing functions as UNCCD Executive Secretary has also served as UNFCCC Acting Executive Secretary since 17 July 2022 and was a member of the team that pre-selected Simon Stiell, said: “I warmly congratulate Simon Stiell on his appointment and look forward to his leadership in the years ahead and to working closely with him in preparing for the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh this November. As someone who hails from a vulnerable Caribbean island nation, Simon Stiell knows first-hand the profound and immediate impacts of climate change on finite land and water resources. At a time when we are seeing record-breaking heatwaves, severe droughts and devastating wildfires across many parts of the world, we must more than ever unite our efforts to build resilience and protect people and planet.”. “Land and climate are inextricably linked. Sustainable land management can be a big part of the climate solution that can help keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees—we cannot afford to miss this chance. Every fraction of a degree of temperature rise is a matter of life and death to millions, especially the most vulnerable people. Yet, no nation is immune, and all nations can work together to restore land and boost resilience to drought,” Mr Thiaw added. For more information, contact: UNCCD Press Office, Tel.: +49-228-815-2820 or E-mail: email@example.com About UNCCD The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the global vision and voice for land. We unite governments, scientists, policymakers, private sector and communities around a shared vision and global action to restore and manage the world’s land for the sustainability of humanity and the planet. Much more than an international treaty signed by 197 parties, UNCCD is a multilateral commitment to mitigating today’s impacts of land degradation and advancing tomorrow’s land stewardship in order to provide food, water, shelter and economic opportunity to all people in an equitable and inclusive manner.
The UNCCD Land Anthem “Born from the Land’, performed by the Land Ambassador Ricky Kej, became an emotional curtain-raiser for the high-level thematic debate "Moment for Nature" that took place on 19 July 2022 in the General Assembly Hall of the UN Headquarters in New York. The debate focused on ways to achieve the Paris Agreement's 1.5-degree target and ensure humanity's future by promoting greater coordination of the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity on land and sea, restore life to degraded land and soils, combat pollution and enable circular economies. Somewhere along our journey as humans, we have forgotten that we are not the only species, we need to live in absolute peace and absolute harmony with every single entity of nature, co-existing with the land we walk on and the air we breathe" – Ricky Kej The two-time Grammy Award winner and a long-standing UNCCD Land Ambassador, Ricky Kej embodies and inspires positive change through the emotional language of art and music. The UNCCD Land Anthem that he created together with another Land Ambassador Baaba Maal and other musicians from Canada, India, the USA, Senegal, South Africa and Vietnam has already been produced in eight languages. The song that celebrates Life on Land has been performed at key international events, such as the UNCCD COPs and the Desertification and Drought Day global observances. You can download the lyrics in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian, and watch the original release on our YouTube channel.
The Commonwealth Living Lands Charter adopted on 25 June 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda, at the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is a bold step to build the resilience of nearly 2.5 billion Commonwealth citizens, or one-third of the global population. The Commonwealth Living Lands Charter: A Commonwealth Call to Action on Living Lands (CALL) expresses the will by leaders of the 54 member states of the Commonwealth to “voluntarily dedicate a ‘Living Land’ to future generations of every country with assured prosperity, sustenance and security.” It will be backed by CALL implementation plans to be developed by all Commonwealth nations. The Charter makes the strongest commitment yet to work on the global challenges of climate change, the loss of biodiversity and land degradation in a coordinated and synergistic way. Commonwealth leaders underlined the need to build natural resilience through biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change. The Charter also represents a significant contribution towards the achievement of global voluntary commitments to restore 1 billion hectares of degraded lands by 2030, with half of these pledges made under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Already, under the Land Degradation Neutrality targets, 21 Commonwealth countries committed to restoring 110 million hectares. Speaking on behalf of UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw at the high-level launch event in Kigali, Louise Baker, Managing Director of the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, said: “The Living Lands charter offers Commonwealth countries a roadmap for greater resilience. In the face of climate change, it offers adaption and hope. In the face of environmental degradation, it offers restored ecosystems. In the face of food insecurity, it offers more production without more costly inputs. And in the face of economic turmoil, it offers reward. For every dollar invested we are seeing rates of return of at least 7-30 dollars from restoration.” Ms Baker acknowledged the leadership roles Commonwealth members are playing in large-scale land restoration projects, such as the Great Green Wall in the Sahel and the G20 Initiative on Land and Terrestrial Ecosystems. She also stressed that finance and a multisectoral, all of government approach will be key to getting “a tough job” done of restoring degrading land, saving biological diversity and limiting the Earth’s warming. “The Global Mechanism of UNCCD has launched a partnership for project preparation to work with strategic partners like the Commonwealth and with its Climate Finance Access Hub – and climate finance advisers – to deliver a pipeline of viable and bankable projects – that deliver for land and climate at the same time. The Global Mechanism is there to help nations put land at the heart of climate action,” Ms Baker added. According to UNCCD's flagship Global Land Outlook 2 report released in April 2022, up to 40% of all ice-free land is already degraded – meaning its benefits have been lost to varying degrees, with dire consequences for climate, biodiversity and livelihoods. Business as usual will, by 2050, result in degradation of 16 million square kilometers (almost the size of South America), with 69 gigatonnes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Land restoration is a powerful and cost-effective tool to address the interconnected climate, biodiversity and land crises, with economic returns estimated at US$ 125-140 trillion every year - as much as 1.5 times global GDP in 2021 (US$ 93 trillion).
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has designated me to be the Acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), effective 17 July 2022, and until a new Executive Secretary is appointed. I am confident that with the support of UNFCCC management and staff, the continuity will be uninterrupted during this transitional period to deliver on the ambitious agenda ahead of UNFCCC COP27. I also remain committed to ensuring that there will be no disruption in the dispensing of my functions as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and, particularly, the delivery of the mandate the UNCCD Parties have entrusted me with at COP15. I look forward to working with the Secretary-General and UNFCCC Parties to facilitate a smooth transition to the next UNFCCC leadership and extend my thanks to the UNCCD COP15 President, the Bureau and staff for the willingness to share my time with our sister Convention.