Executive Secretary’s Corner: February 2021

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In this corner of the UNCCD, I will occasionally share my thoughts and highlight significant developments of interest to our readers and stakeholders.

As with most international organizations, COVID-19 impacted our work. But I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction and that now is the moment for a breakthrough in the implementation of the Convention. Our commitment to sustainable solutions is taking a new turn. As does our understanding of how solutions can be leveraged so that we respond to and recover from the COVID-19 crisis and at the same time reduce the risk of future pandemics.

Last year, most of our staff worked remotely for most of the year. Despite the challenges, we made significant progress. In fact, in many areas we exceeded the results we had envisioned half-way through the biennium. As momentum to open up economies builds up, land remains a critical part of our toolbox. Our priority is still to ensure the policy and implementation work we do helps people and economies to build back better, guided by our COVID-19 Response. Land-based solutions offer a viable pathway towards regenerating our communities, societies, and regional economies.

Countries have committed to restore nearly 800 million hectares of land globally, and more than half of the world’s restoration potential  is now tied directly to the UNCCD’s Land Degradation Neutrality national voluntary targets (at 450 million hectares). This figure is from 90 countries, a majority of which had secured the commitment for implementation at high-levels of government by mid-2020. Another 14 countries have set their targets since and an additional 23 countries are working on setting their targets. Clearly, the Convention will play an important role in health recovery and rebuilding economies and environmental resilience.

For instance, it is estimated that farmland restoration applied on 172 million hectares could generate 14.08 gigatons reduced CO2 by 2050. The restoration of the 250 million hectares of farmland earmarked, so far, for restoration under the LDN voluntary national targets could make a significant contribution to climate change mitigation and adaption in the short term, and environmental resilience long term. It is my hope that our Parties will seize this moment and momentum to make rapid progress on these targets. Documenting and communicating effectively the concrete and positive outcomes of land restoration on security, economy and health in their countries will be vital.

The growing visibility of – and interest in – the Convention’s work is also evident through our engagement with the UN Security Council, One Planet Summit, G-20, and World Economic Forum. The financial commitments of over US$ 14 billion, referred to as the Great Green Wall Accelerator, was a good start to 2021. The Great Green Wall will deliver nature-based solutions to multiple challenges at epic scale to provide jobs and economic opportunities for millions and transform an entire region. We will build on this momentum, through future opportunities, including: the Food Summit that starts next week,  the event by the President of the UN General Assembly to mark the end of Decade on Desertification postponed from June 2020; the launch of the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration in June to support concrete work on the ground at country level; the Desertification and Drought Day on 17 June to raise awareness about the potential for restoration, and the Conferences of the Parties of the Rio Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change.

My optimism for change also comes from progress I have witnessed at other levels. Our working collaboration with the wider UN system, and with the other two Rio Conventions in particular, is stronger and closer. Our public outreach during the Desertification and Drought Day (over 70 million people) and to young people (over 2 million to date) is also growing. But the most significant, is probably a new appreciation globally that land health matters for security, human health and the economy.

The 19th meeting of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention which starts in less than a month will meet under the most challenging circumstances ever. Let us make it an opportunity to further share, learn, inspire and help the communities we serve to recover faster, better and sooner. Now that the door is open, we ought to act together with a sense of hope, but also of urgency.

Ibrahim Thiaw

UNCCD Executive Secretary