60th GEF Council: Relations with conventions

ES quote IWD

Remarks by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw

Co-Chairs, Council members,

Colleagues, and friends

First, allow me to wish you a Happy Anniversary. As our instrument turns 30, let us celebrate its great achievements. Celebrate above all thirty years of cooperation. Thirty years of working together in tackling the most pressing global environmental issues.

Our evaluation offices have always done a good job in appreciating the effectiveness of our projects and programmes. But more than just a funding mechanism, the Global Environmental Facility turns out to also be a knowledge hub. A science advisor. A rallying point where different constituencies, big and small meet, exchange views; get the latest information about successful and less successful environmental projects and programmes.

The GEF did not solve all problems. It could not. But over the last 30 years, across generations of projects, we have made remarkable progress, though much remains to be done. In fact, the environmental crisis is not subsiding. Quite the contrary.

We are at a moment of great challenge for the health of the people and the planet. Rates of climate change along with land and other environmental degradation and loss and not slowing down.  We are far from delivering on our commitments to conserve, sustainably manage and restore the land and its terrestrial ecosystems.

But we are also at a moment of promise. The promise of land and nature is finally being recognized. There is a better understanding of the potential of land to help stabilize and then build forward better.

People appreciate the idea of putting the natural world at the heart of our plans. This demand has now been made quite visible in the streets. More and more visible in voting ballots. As we know, change takes time. I personally think the time has come for humanity to turn the tide.

As we are about to replenish the Facility, I invite the GEF community to embrace this momentum. To embrace the promise of land and nature to deliver multiple benefits to the people and to the planet.

And then deliver on that promise with the right level of ambition and with the right level of resources.

Just two days ago, the President of the UN General Assembly convened a High-level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought. The session was attended by Heads of State and Government, Ministers, scientists, civil society representatives. And by the UN leadership at large.

The sense of ambition on the stewardship of land is palpable.

There was a strong push for land restoration.

Restoring degraded lands is an immediate and concrete climate action. It reduces emissions and removes carbon from the atmosphere. Restored lands, by serving as carbon sinks, contribute to detoxifying the oceans, thus reducing their acidification.

Restoring degraded land helps vulnerable communities adapt to climate change by reducing the impacts of drought, flood, and other climate-related shocks.

Keeping the land and soil healthy is one of the best ways to prevent biodiversity loss both on land and at sea.

For leaders and decision makers focusing now on the post pandemic economic recovery, land restoration also makes economic sense.

Closing the productivity gap on land could boost agricultural production. At a time of great need this would be boosting food security, job creation, empowering women and advancing rural development.

Investing in land is a smart and effective choice for quick and positive impact.

Ten years after the GEF Council opened a focal area on land degradation, I trust you are seeing land as an integrator of many other focal areas.

This is why, in my opinion, the synergies agenda should be the new normal in GEF 8 programming. We cannot continue to work in silos.

With this in mind, in a changing climate with more droughts and floods expected, additional measures will be needed to address the growing phenomenon of drought.

I followed closely the deliberations of the last Council and interventions on drought. I support the idea expressed by some Council members calling on the GEF to be more assertive and attentive to the ravages that droughts are causing to the planet, to societies and to the economies of affected countries.

During the upcoming cycle, the GEF community should consider investing in early-warning systems, preparedness, vulnerability, and risk assessment as well as drought risk mitigation.


Parties are asking for more resources to be allocated to fighting land degradation. In many ways, this makes sense. Not only from the environmental point of view. But also economically and politically.

In the Decade of Action on SDGs and the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.  In a way, there has never been a more important time to invest in restoring degraded lands. Restoring degraded land means feeding a growing population; reducing unwanted migration. Averting conflicts over access to scarce land and water. While protecting nature.

Please count on the UNCCD to play its part in the replenishment of the GEF. We stand ready to contribute in any way we can to help the world fulfil its multiple promises to protect people and the planet in a prosperous and equitable world.

Thank you.