COP14 Bureau opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

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Madam President,

Dear Bureau members,

It is, as ever, a pleasure to speak to you and work with you, regardless of the distance the pandemic has forced upon us.

I hope that everyone is holding up during what has been a long and wearying period for us all.

I commend your continued commitment to our Convention.

Your dedication remains essential, as UNCCD is growing ever more and as land is part of the solution in these times of great turmoil.

If we fulfill our mandate to protect, manage, and restore the land, the benefits will be immense towards building a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world.

We will accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Reduce the risk of future pandemics.

Slow climate change and protect biodiversity.

Free millions of people from poverty and hunger.

Help to create a world of peace, prosperity, and equity.

Madam President,

More than ever before, we need solidarity, hope but also tough political choices and innovative policy action to see this crisis through together. 

Allow me to give a brief update of our activities so far before addressing today’s agenda.

Regarding the Secretariat and Global Mechanism, I am pleased to report that our staff and families are doing well overall. In unison with the rest of the UN in Bonn, I have continued to take all precautionary measures that are intended to protect the safety, health, and well-being of UNCCD staff with regard to COVID19. This has been a top priority for me and the management team. I have been inspired by how our work has continued uninterrupted, enabling the Convention to continue to play an active global role. I am thankful to my staff for their enduring dedication. Our work in 2020 and 2021 is not, in any form, on hold. 

We now have a strong Management Team which I am very proud of, with more women into leadership positions. I am proud that we achieved gender parity in just one year, with 54% women as senior leaders. Overall, women now represent 57% of the UNCCD labor force.

Together with the management team, we have created a consensus around simplification, decentralization, and flexibility to be more nimble, efficient, and effective by adopting for the first time in the Secretariat’s history a Delegation of Authority policy.

At global level, never has the need for land restoration been more crucial. In the midst of the pandemic, a window of hope and opportunity has opened for our Parties: a chance to recover better. The UNCCD Secretariat has focused its attention on key strategic partnerships. At our last Bureau meeting, I informed you about the G20 Global Initiative on Land. We are in advanced discussions with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the funding agreement and we will soon set up the Initiative Coordination Office.

Italy which holds the G20 Presidency this year, is also very much interested in Sustainable Land Management.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank G20 countries who are also members of the Bureau for their instrumental support.

On January 11, at the One Planet Summit organized in Paris, the Africa’s Great Green Wall received a major boost from donors and partners. For the first time ever, there was a clear recognition that land restoration can have multiple positive impacts. To the ecology, to society, to the economy. Close to USD 17 billion have now been pledged. The UNCCD has been requested to provide technical support to provide enabling conditions for an accelerated implementation on the ground.

Madam President,

Covid-19 has not postponed the need for Parties to accelerate work towards fulfilling commitments they have already made.

We understand the Indian Government is completing the process for the implementation of Prime Minister Modi’s vision shared at COP14 in New Delhi, to restore 26M ha of land by 2030.

Furthermore, you may have noted the recent announcement by Prince Mohamed Ben Salman of Saudi Arabia about a national and a regional initiative to restore 240 M ha of degraded land across the Kingdom and the Middle East region. We are in contact with Saudi Arabia to better understand their plans and provide as much support as we can.

The implementation of the Land Degradation Neutrality is ongoing in 104 out of the 127 countries that submitted their national commitments. 

The Global Mechanism is developing a new business model to cope with the growing and complex demands from Parties.

Madam President,

Land restoration is clearly gaining momentum. Itis low-tech and a cheap solution to climate from the perspective of carbon sequestration.

We will need to continue to make the case, and convince major players, notably from the private sector for a more sustainable production. Of particular importance are the producers of food, feed, and fiber. We also need to see major improvements on the consumption side.

One imminent opportunity we have is the High-Level Dialogue at the UN General Assembly on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought which is scheduled to take place on 20 May. The President of the UN General Assembly is fully committed to working with all Members States, at the highest level, in order to make this event a success, with a lasting legacy.

We need your full support to make this Dialogue a successful one.

On 17 June, the world will celebrate the Desertification and Drought Day, with Costa Rica as the global host. The theme focuses on the contribution of Land Restoration to the Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery. I am very pleased with the positive response we have received so far both from the public and the private sectors.

At our next Bureau meeting, I intend to inform you about great progress being made in improving the reporting tools, including through the establishment of a geo-spatial platform.

There are also important development shaping up in other sectors, such as the Science Policy Interface as well as Capacity Building and Innovation.

Our staff have been very busy and creative, despite the lockdown. But in the interest of time, I will have to come back to these on another occasion.

Madame President,

Covid-19 has revealed the world’s vulnerabilities, many of which intersect with the land crisis. At the same time, it has highlighted the importance of expertise and science, cooperation, information and solidarity. And it has also, in many cases, demonstrated that land is part of the solution and can help steer the recovery towards a safer, more sustainable, and inclusive path. We stand ready to continue supporting Parties, now and beyond COVID-19.

This brings me to today’s agenda.

We will discuss the date and place of COP15, a key decision for the Convention.

You will also hear a report by the Chair of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC). I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome Mr. Andrew Bishop. Mr. Bishop is not new to the UNCCD process as he served as Guyana’s national focal point in the past.

Finally, you will hear a report by the Chair of the Committee on Science and Technology (CST).

Madame President,

Parties had requested us to organize COP15 in Bonn, or another venue, in autumn of this year. Considering the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP15 in 2021 may no longer possible.

The pandemic has disrupted our plans.

You have in front of view, under agenda item II, a note on the status of preparations for COP15 to inform your decision on the best course of action for a successful COP, moving forward. The note includes options for rescheduling COP15. Rescheduling will ensure all Parties can focus on the issues to be discussed at this key conference and allow more time for the necessary preparations to take place, taking into account safety and security. We will continue to work with all of you and hope to be able to get your views and guidance on:

  • The postponement of COP15 to 2022
  • The organization of an online process for Parties to decide on an interim budget for 2022

Your decision today will help us engage further our host country with regard the rescheduling of COP15 in 2022. This, of course, does not exclude the possibility of a third party expressing interest to preside or host COP15, regardless of your decision on the date of the COP.

We know that many countries are already in the process of developing their Post-Pandemic recovery plans. It would be strategic for our Conference of the Parties to be held on time, to actively contribute to policy making and guide pro-land investments and policies. The Second Edition of the Global Land Outlook is designed to serve as a good reference in that respect.

On CRIC19, while I will leave the details to our able Chair, let me just say how pleased I was with the outcomes. The meeting confirmed that the work we do under this Convention is essential to protecting, managing, and restoring healthy land. And that we can only fulfill the land’s full potential if we do it together. Thanks again to all of you, a total of 138 Parties, 9 UN agencies, 15 Intergovernmental Organizations, and 63 civil society organizations took part in the debates, over a course of five days.

Regarding the report by the CST Chair, there are a lot of important activities and updates that the Chair will be presenting. It is always heartening to see collaboration, both internal and external. And this struck me as a key positive note of the report.

As I said earlier, we must all seek to reach beyond the confines of our Convention to engage every ministry, business, investor, UN agency and process that impacts on the land.

So, the CST coordination with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is most welcome and much appreciated.

Madame President,

The Secretariat is very much looking forward to a successful and productive meeting.

Thank you.