59th GEF Council Meeting: Remarks by the UNCCD Executive Secretary

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Council members, 
Fellow colleagues Heads of the Conventions’ secretariats,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

First, allow me to express my gratitude to Dr Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, for his kind invitation. I wish him great success in his new role as CEO of the Global Environmental Facility. We are truly excited to work with you. 

Dear friends. 

Land and in particular land restoration is gaining a renewed momentum on the world stage. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, G20 leaders launched the "Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats” to prevent, halt, and reverse land degradation. Building on existing initiatives, leaders share the ambition to achieve a 50 percent reduction in degraded land by 2040. According to estimates from FAO, there are 2 billion ha of degraded land in the world. 

In their communiqué, the G20 Ministers of Environment underscored that land restoration and the avoidance of habitat loss are often cost-effective solutions to addressing the biodiversity crisis and other key environmental challenges.  Thus, land restoration approach not only contributes to achieving SDG 15 - and its target 15.3 - but yields high social and economic returns. 

The Ministers decided to house the Initiative Coordination Office at UNCCD. 

This initiative is being launched as the world prepares to emerge from the COVID19 pandemic.  As the pandemic destroys hard-won development gains, smart investments in land restoration will have to be at the center of recovery programmes in most developing countries. Indeed, investing in land restoration unlocks multiple opportunities: combat climate change; water and biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, food security, etc. 

We expect demand for investment in land restoration will remain high and grow further.

Because land is now recognized as a “glue” at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

A bridge between different GEF focal areas. 

Implementation for many critical GEF themes – that directly benefit the poorest people - happens on the land.  

Land restoration benefits people and nature. A restoration economy will create millions of green jobs and enhance humanity’s resilience to future shocks and stresses. Revitalizing terrestrial ecosystems, such as farmlands, grasslands, forests and wetlands rebuilds their ability to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Done well, it can also protect habitat for biodiversity, build soil fertility and reduce water scarcity. 

So, as we enter the replenishment of the GEF, we must find bold and creative ways to meet soaring demand and sustain momentum. 

Parties to the UNCCD want to see their voluntary plans for land degradation neutrality delivered, with the aim to combat desertification. 

Overcoming bottlenecks like land tenure and gender will be key.  Support from GEF to improve the enabling environment will be indispensable.  

At the same time, Parties are increasingly looking for support to implement national drought plans. Financing for drought risk reduction and resilience needs imagination and a shift in thinking.  In the future, we must be better prepared rather than just being reactive to drought. 

To my mind, GEF8 can also explore and test innovative solutions. Thanks to the Paris Agreement, investors are exploring options to decarbonize their portfolio and to invest in low-carbon technologies.  Nature-based solutions offer them low-tech, low-carbon, and green options. When investors meet producers along value chains, their business has the additional advantage of having a human face.  

As GEF family, we ought to work hand in hand with investors on NBS and change their narrative.

The time is certainly right to be bold and creative. And to use land and nature to build back better – or rather build forward towards a better future. 

The upcoming GEF replenishment is an opportunity for the international community to show bold financial commitment to land restoration which is, as seen by the G.20 Ministers, cost-effective solutions to address biodiversity loss and other key environmental challenges yielding high social and economic returns.   

The UNCCD stands ready to play its part in efforts leading to a full replenishment of our facility. 

Thank you.