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Wet wonderlands: Making a case for wetland restoration 

Gracing every continent of the Earth, wetlands are essential to the planet’s health, often compared to its vital organs, acting as arteries that carry water and as kidneys that filter harmful substances.   Wetlands serve as the watchful sentinels of our wellbeing: they form protective barriers against tsunamis and sponge up the excess rainfall to reduce flood surges. During the dry season in arid climates, wetlands release the stored water which helps delay the onset of drought and reduce water shortages. They also store vast quantities of carbon, helping mitigate climate change. Home to some of the most diverse and fertile ecosystems, wetlands support livelihoods of 1 billion people. 40 percent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.  World Wetlands Day is observed each year on 2 February to increase people’s understanding of the critical importance of wetlands and raise awareness of the urgent need to protect these fragile and threatened natural gems.   “We at UNCCD are proud to join in this celebration and recognize the unique and valuable ecosystem services provided by wetlands. We are committed to doing our part to conserve and protect wetlands, and we are calling on all of you to join us in this vital cause,” said UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw.  To date, nearly 90 percent of the world’s wetlands have been degraded or lost, with 35 percent in the last 50 years alone. That is why on this World Wetlands Day, UNCCD is joining the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and other partners to highlight the examples of countries and communities making strides in wetland restoration.   Indonesia: Creating green wildfire barriers  Drained peatlands pose a high risk of fires that are devastating for people, nature and climate. In 2015, fires in Indonesia emitted more carbon dioxide a day than the entire US economy. More than half of these fires occurred in peatlands, causing an economic loss of US$ 16 billion. Rewetting and restoring peatlands can enhance drought resilience and lower the risk of wildfires. In the Sebangau National Park in Kalimantan, Indonesia — home to one-fifth of the world’s orangutan population — measures to restore the forests and rewet peatlands have helped prevent the spread of wildfires.  Argentina: Rewilding jaguar habitats The Iberá wetlands in Argentina comprise the largest freshwater aquatic ecosystem in South America and are the focus of an ambitious rewilding endeavor across 7,000 square kilometers of northeast Argentina’s Corrientes Province.  A jaguar reintroduction program started in 2015 first bore fruit in 2018 when two new wild jaguar cubs were born in the newly formed Iberá Park, the first in decades. Reintroductions of the red and green macaw started in 2015 with just 15 birds, and by 2020 they had successfully raised wild chicks for the first time in 150 years.352 353 Formerly extinct throughout Argentina, the return of this charismatic species – an important seed disperser for many plant species – is a further mark of the program’s success.  Nigeria: Growing the Great Green Wall In Nigeria, the national Great Green Wall (GGW) program is being implemented across 11 frontline states, with a population of over 40 million people and comprising 43% of the country’s land. Nigeria is threatened by recurrent droughts, persistent land degradation, and encroaching desertification spreading across grasslands and wetlands. One of the key components of the national GGW program is the establishment of a contiguous 1,400-kilometer shelterbelt (windbreak) from Kebbi state in the northwest to Borno state in the northeast, to ward off Harmattan winds from the Sahara.  Iran: Replenishing a biosphere reserve In Iran, a clear signal of vanishing wetlands is the increased frequency and intensity of dust storms, heralding the advance of desertification. The basin of Lake Urmia is home to 6.4 million people and 200 species of birds. Agricultural expansion and population growth over the past decades led to the over-exploitation of lake’s resources, causing land degradation. To remedy the situation, Iran has launched a sustainable management project for the lake, working with local communities. Engineering works have helped to unblock and un-silt the feeder rivers, and there has been a deliberate release of water from dams in the surrounding areas.   China: Reviving Himalayan wildlife Situated at the headwaters of the Yellow River, the sedge-dominated peatlands in the Ruoergai plateau in China store water and supply it to downstream areas. They are also home to endemic and endangered Himalayan wildlife species. In the 1960-70s, these peatlands, which had been drained for agriculture, began to be badly damaged by overgrazing, with over 70 percent severely degraded as a result. A peatland restoration project implemented on almost 5,000 ha over six years included blocking the canals and cultivating vegetation to raise the water table. Rewetting targeted areas resulted in enhanced carbon sequestration and reduced emissions. Restored sites also recreated habitats for endemic amphibians and birds, while water stored in previously dry canals provides water for livestock, supporting local communities   Belarus: Bringing peatlands back to life In Belarus, massive peat excavation resulted in about 300,000 ha drained to harvest peat deposits for fuel. Since 2018, a peatland restoration project, supported by UNCCD, is centered on around the application of rewetting techniques and improvements in monitoring, forecasting and early warning of peatland fires. Rewetting and re-naturalization of peatlands provides vast ecosystem benefits: the increased level of ground water reduces drought risks while preventing further mineralization of peats locks the soil carbon in the rewetted areas, removing it from the atmosphere. Rewetted peatlands also have a larger potential to sustain biodiversity and supply additional income-generating opportunities for local populations, such as cranberry harvesting.   As emphasized by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, successful wetland restoration requires a concerted effort from governments, civil society and the private sector. Investments in science for technology innovation, infrastructure for effective management and financial mechanisms for project implementation can turn the tide toward a better future for wetlands. Photo credit: @UNDP_Belarus 

Wet wonderlands: Making a case for wetland restoration 
AMCEN ministerial conference: Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Excellencies,   Ministers, Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,   As we gather here in beautiful Dakar for the eighteenth session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, large parts of the African continent are wilting.  The Greater Horn of Africa is suffering its longest drought in 40 years. 50 million people in the region are suffering from acute food security with many heading to famine. The dry spell is not sparing North Africa: Morocco, Algeria. Last year, it was Madagascar and parts of Southern Africa. The year before, the Sahel. There is hardly any year where floods, drought or loss of fertile land is not hitting the continent. Millions are left without shelter, food, water or barely enough firewood to cook their meal.   And yet, Africa is still not addressing the root causes of land degradation. Many governments still do not see desertification, land degradation and drought as a top priority. It seems  paradoxical to want to achieve food security, to combat poverty and to reduce vulnerabilities while at the same time neglecting its soils and productive land. Ministries in charge of land and drought are still largely under-resourced. Local authorities are not empowered to tackle the Herculean task of restoring degraded lands. Yet, Africa is arguably the most vulnerable region to drought, desertification and loss of productive land.   The continent has lost 65% of its productive land over the last seventy years. Meanwhile the population has grown by 600%. Climate change will further accelerate this disruption. In some parts of Africa, such as the Sahel and Somalia, we have already reached the tipping point.   Are we not tired of seeing children dying? Are we not tired of seeing people leave their lives behind? Are we not tired of the scramble for emergency aid? For sure, I am.  As a human being, as an international civil servant. But above all as a proud African. Many African nations have braced with droughts for decades. But are ready to confront another dry spell? Because there will be another drought.   And another.   And another.   Because the next drought will occur sooner than we thought.   In fact, the next drought may already be here.   Droughts are often followed by floods. Or vice versa.   Droughts and floods are twins.   Desertification is robbing our fertile land.   Drought and Land degradation are eroding our economy.   Deteriorating our well-being and quality of life.   Wreaking havoc on our social fabric, which is perhaps for Africa, the most valuable asset there is.   Excellence, mesdames et messieurs les ministres,   Chers délégués,   Mesdames et messieurs,   L’Afrique, plus que toute autre région du monde, fait face à des défis multiformes.   Pour autant, elle ne plie pas.   L’Afrique résiste.   Stoïquement.   L’Afrique a fait preuve de résilience face à des phénomènes historiques sans précédent. Dépeuplée, dépecée, cannibalisée, elle a, tel un rock, résisté.  Elle est debout.   Certes touchée, mais pas coulée.   Loin s’en faut.   Les événements contemporains ont montré qu’en dépit de la faiblesse de ses moyens matériels, l’Afrique sait faire preuve de résilience, y compris face aux grandes pandémies.   En matière de gestion des ressources naturelles et de lutte contre les changements climatiques, l’Afrique a peut-être une autre voie, une autre stratégie à adopter.   Un changement de narratif demande un changement d’approche.   Une aspiration d’émergence et de prospérité plutôt qu’une approche de lutte contre la pauvreté. Dépasser la borne de départ. Décoller du starting block.  Ouvrir les vannes du potentiel des ressources naturelles. A la fois les richesses sous-terre ou au fonds des mers, et celles à ciel ouvert.   Le soleil et le vent, les cours d’eau, la houle et la géothermie seront, peut-être, bientôt cotés aux bourses des valeurs «écologiques».   Le monde se tourne vers l’hydrogène, cette énergie propre du futur.   Or, les quatre coins d’Afrique dégagent un potentiel excédentaire en hydrogène vert ; l’électrolyse se ferait en utilisant, comme source d’énergie, le soleil, le vent et l’eau.  Tous neutres en carbone.   Sortir l’Afrique de sa pauvreté énergétique, par la grande porte de la neutralité carbone.  Assurer le décollage industriel du continent, en suivant une autre voie que celle qui a conduit aux désastres cataclysmiques que le monde subit au quotidien.   Il s’agit pour l’Afrique, d’arrêter de « dormir sur la natte des autres », pour paraphraser l’inoubliable Joseph Ki Zerbo du Burkina Faso.  La richesse de l’Afrique en terres rares est un autre don de la Nature. En Afrique centrale et en Afrique australe notamment. Ces éléments si essentiels aux technologies vertes vendues à prix d’or sur le marché international.   Par ailleurs, la diversité extraordinaire des écosystèmes est une autre des dimensions de cette richesse: de la forêt dense humide à la savane, des grands espaces ouverts, aux luxuriantes steppes. La disponibilité de grands espaces offre une amplitude extraordinaire pour la restauration des terres à grande échelle.   Restaurer les terres, c’est rendre à celles-ci leur aptitude à produire pour nos besoins et les besoins de nos écosystèmes.   Restaurer les terres, c’est créer de la richesse, lutter contre les vulnérabilités en construisant la résilience des écosystèmes et des populations.   Restaurer les terres, c’est aussi réduire la quantité de carbone dans l’atmosphère, en stockant ce dernier dans le sol.   Bref, la restauration des terres, la gestion rationnelle des forêts, comme la production d’énergie propre ou l’exploitation rationnelle des terres rares sont autant de mesure d’atténuation aux changements climatiques.   L’atténuation aux changements climatiques doit donc être une priorité pour l’Afrique.  Autant que l’adaptation.   Un tel changement de narratif est vecteur d’investissements (publics et privés) dans des secteurs productifs tels que l’énergie, l’agro-foresterie ou encore l’éco-tourisme.    Il s’agit de promouvoir la prospérité tout en préservant la nature.   Il s’agit de promouvoir une croissance sobre en carbone.    Il s’agit tout simplement de promouvoir le développement durable.   L’Afrique, la presse n’en parle pas assez, joue un rôle pionnier dans la promotion des investissements  en matière de restauration des terres. Au Sahel, la Grande muraille verte a pu mobiliser 19 milliards de dollars. En Côte d’Ivoire, l’initiative d’Abidjan en est à 2,5 milliards de dollars. D’autres initiatives comme AFR100 du NEPAD, montre la voie. La toute nouvelle initiative de restauration des terres en Afrique australe (SADC), est plus que prometteuse. L’initiale de restauration des terres du Moyen Orient, concerne plusieurs pays d’Afrique. Elle promet plusieurs dizaines de milliards de dollars. La Earth Foundation de Bezos annonce un milliard de dollars pour la restauration des terres en Afrique. La liste n’est pas exhaustive. Elle est cependant une démonstration concrète du leadership africain dans ce domaine crucial. Leadership qu’il faut célébrer et renforcer. Les agendas des terres, du climat et de la biodiversité étant fortement interconnectés, une approche globale et intégrée est fortement recommandée. C’est ainsi qu’à UNCCD, nous appelons de tous nos vœux pour des résultats concrets à la COP27 du climat à Sharm-El-Sheikh, et à la COP15 de la biodiversité à Montréal.   Avec les résultats de la COP15 de UNCCD qui s’est déjà tenue en mai à Abidjan, la communauté internationale disposerait ainsi d’un corpus juridique cohérent.   Ensemble, nous réussirons.   Je vous remercie.  

AMCEN ministerial conference: Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
2nd intersessional meeting of the CST16 Bureau: Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Dear colleagues, Alarmed again by the worldwide extreme heat-wave, drought and water scarcity, the world is at a critical moment. We are at the critical important moment to move forward from the COP commitments and decisions to actions.  Among them is the decision to further scientific guidance. But the major task of this Committee on Science and Technology (CST) Bureau meeting is the renewal of Science-Policy Interface (SPI). 217 applications received – symbolizes the raising awareness of the importance of Land and drought issues and the interlinkage between land, and climate change and food, water and energy of our daily life. This is a fundamental step to ensure highly competitive and qualified, full geographically represented and gender balanced expertise to join in the UNCCD’s science policy interface and to dedicate to Land and Drought agenda. So I have three key messages related to that: First, Keep addressing key bottlenecks that require focused science if we are to help countries address DLDD, achieve LDN, and enhance drought resistance Second, Consider innovation, because innovation starts with current science I see some young scientists around the table - I hope the promising young generation could also play a role to bring more innovative views in the process of science policy interfacing. Last but not least - Do all you can to achieve gender parity in the SPI membership. It will not be easy, but is absolutely necessary. To enable synchronization with and joint efforts of all relevant processes, we need to improve cooperation with relevant scientific bodies and panels including major reports of IPCC, IPBES, ITPS, IDMP and UNEP-IRP.  I am glad to know, there are also quite some female scientists. This a good basis for you to achieve gender parity in the SPI membership, which will not be easy, but is absolutely necessary. I am glad that the CST bureau will also discuss on the CST’s intersessional workplan, including improvement of the Role of CST and SPI in translating science into policy and communication messages to general public. We all know without involvement of public, there will be no transition to sustainable development. I am looking forward you discussion and guidance on how we can maximize participation of the Science Technology Correspondents (STCs) into the work of CST and CRIC.   The STCs are working on science on ground, who are understanding more on the social economic and ecological realities, scientific demand, and challenges in the communities. Their voice need be heard, their contributions are of valuable for transition on ground. I wish you a successful meeting.

2nd intersessional meeting of the CST16 Bureau: Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw