Launch of the 1st Global Rangelands Atlas

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Opening remarks by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw

As UNCCD, we care about land. We care about people’s livelihoods. We care about ecosystems. Having “Land in balance” is our motto.

Reconciling the needs of a growing population -and a growing middle class- on one hand, with the need to protect our land, the most precious resource that provides us with food, fodder, water, air, and energy.

I believe this is the first Global Rangelands Atlas ever published. Rangelands are social and economic systems as much as ecosystems, which makes them harder to define.

This lack of definition has been a barrier to mapping them, which in turn has been a barrier to building global support to protect them.

The Atlas shows that rangelands dominate the drylands, making them hugely important to the UNCCD. If we do not understand land degradation in the rangelands, then we are likely to see investments that are biased towards other land types.

Or, even worse, we may see investments that are blind to specific conditions of rangelands, ending up being harmful to its systems.

The lack of proper investment in rangelands is a challenge. A challenge we should address head on. Starting with the way we communicate. Our narrative about rangelands is rather reductive.

“Rangelands,” “grazing lands,”c “pastoral lands” – all these terms suggest these lands are only used for domestic animals. Is this entirely true?

Some say: Rangelands are degraded lands; therefore, they are not worth investing.

I am sure the Atlas will debunk that myth. Think about the beautiful National Parks and Landscapes where Tourism is thriving? Where big businesses are being made. Are they not a big part of climate solutions? Are rangelands not biodiversity reservoirs and hot spots?

When the extractive industry operates in areas that are rangelands, the land is called something else.

I am reminded of the late Taghi Farvar’s 10 myths on mobile pastoralism (https://bit.ly/3hQNGli). Among the myths he argued should be debunked, I chose the following:

  1. 1. Pastoralism is an archaic form of production not adapted to modernity.
  2. 2. All conflicts are caused by pastoralists.
  3. 3. Rangelands are degraded because of over-stocking and overpopulation.
  4. 4. Pastoralism destroys biodiversity and leads to desertification.
  5. 5. Pastoralists overgraze their land.

These are wrong assumptions that are not proven by science.

What is generally accepted is that investments in rangelands are low. That the economy of pastoralism has attracted less policy attention, and therefore less political interest.

That hundreds of millions of pastoralists from around the world are calling for more attention; more care; more investments.

Dear friends,

Mapping the rangelands is only the first step in ensuring they are sustainably managed, in line with the LDN targets. We hope this Atlas will inform and influence governments to raise rangelands in their national agendas, to start allocating investments to rangeland restoration, in line with national targets under all 3 Rio Conventions as well as ambitions to improve food and water security and other development goals.

The Atlas also helps us to move the conversation forward so that rangelands – half of all land on Earth – can benefit from the UN Decade on ecosystem restoration, the UN Food Systems Summit, and the International Year on Rangelands and Pastoralism in 2026.

The opportunities are lining up nicely – the momentum is picking up – and we must keep building pressure to accelerate action.

Thank you