Policy makers say environmental sustainability and international cooperation vital for COVID-19 recovery


Is it time for a new social contract for nature? 

A high-level panel moderated by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw held on the Desertification and Drought Day observed every year on 17 June, discussed this issue, in the context of a post-COVID-19 recovery and government actions to build back better.  

While COVID-19 exposed the vulnerability of health systems across the world and varying impacts on access to food at country-level, the panelists stressed the importance of both environmental sustainability and international cooperation in the post COVID-19 recovery efforts. 

“COVID-19 is testing us all, and our response has to be inclusive and swift to ensure that we not only survive the pandemic but also thrive after it passes,” said Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, United Arab Emirates. 
He said the UAE acknowledged the seriousness of the situation early on and leveraged agricultural technologies and supported local farmerswhile strengthening international supply chains, in cooperation with other countries” to address the many challenges the country faced. 

He said technology will be used for land restoration in the country and stressed that environmental sustainability would be at the core of the recovery plans and screened a video showing how the country is using technology to overcome water scarcity to grow rice.. 

Ms Marieme Bekaye, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Mauritania, and current Chair of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative, said the country has a small industry, is highly dependent on food imports and many people lost their jobs due to COVID-19. 

The country has gained important lessons for the country’s agro-pastoral sector, in particular, and for Africa which is highly impacted by climate change and dependent on food supplies from other countries. Among these are political will for crisis management, predictability to introduce response measures quickly and multi-sectoral resource mobilization.  

She underlined the need for stability in funding, better environmental data collection and more innovation and technology for the regional Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative. 

Mr. Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation and Industry, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, highlighted the constraints Small Island States face. With only 18,000 acres of agricultural land, there is extreme competition of land for housing, infrastructure and other livelihood needs. 
He described the elaborate COVID-19 package for agriculture set up to make food more accessible in the country, which included redoubling efforts to increase food imports and exports, promoting sustainable farming and drought tolerant crops and setting up food banks. 
India’s Prime Minister had announced the release of  “20 trillion Rupees (over USD260 billion), equivalent to 10% of India’s Gross Domestic Product, for various sectors, including the nature-based solution, to overcome the COVID pandemic,” said Mr. Babul Supriyo, Minister of State, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, India.  
He underlined India's ambitious target of achieving restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 and a recovery of the forest cover by 2 percent.  
“We stand by each other in this crucial time of pandemic to the need of land which is the most significant entity for our survival,” he added. 
Francesco Le Camera, Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) stressed the potential for creating new jobs through renewable energy solutions. 

“Placing the energy transition at the centre of COVID-19 recovery will enable us to overcome the current economic downturn and tackle the climate crisis,” he said, and added that the sector had the potential to create up to 100 million jobs. 

“Renewable energy solutions not only bring socioeconomic gains and create much needed jobs. They are also central in combating desertification and land degradation, providing for climate and community resilience by boosting energy access, water security and food sustainability. A green recovery based on renewables can put the world on the path towards a safe, just and sustainable future,” Le Camera said. 
The 90-minute event, which was streamed live via Zoom and other social media has been viewed by nearly 6,000 people in less than 24 hours and is available here https://bit.ly/2UYxbr1. 

Desertification and Drought Day, is a United Nations observance day held on 17 June every year since 1995, with celebrations taking place in all UN member countries.  

The focus in 2020 was the degradation of the land driven by the need to produce more and more food, animal feed and the fibre used in clothing.  

This has led to a huge waste in resources, at a time when nearly a billion people are without enough food and the competition for productive land is growing.  

This year’s observance emphasized consumers rights to access what they need from the land, but to doing so responsibly by rewarding the producers and suppliers who taking care of the land sustainably. 
For more information, contact: Wagaki Wischnewski, wwischnewski@unccd.int