Remarks by UNCCD ES Ibrahim Thiaw at 61st GEF Council

ES portrait

Agenda item on Relations with Conventions and other International Institutions (Agenda item.10)


Council members,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful for this opportunity to brief the Council again. The Council meets at a time when the world is grappling with the increasing challenges in the path to sustainable development.

You are meeting this time round when land restoration is becoming more relevant by the day.

I see the beginning of a large-scale land restoration movement across the world. When World Leaders speak of trillion trees to be planted, we should translate these into hectares of land being restored. Restoring degraded lands, as you know, generates revenues for poor populations. Land restoration also brings more food to the hungry and to the markets. It’s restoring ecosystems and biodiversity.

When they say planting trees, we should hear enhancing resilience to the climate crisis while sequestering large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere and bringing carbon back to where it belongs, to the soil.

Just last month at the UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow, more than 140 countries agreed on a common declaration, namely the Glasgow Leader’s Declaration on Forests and Land Use.

Leaders committed to working together to reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. We now need to move rapidly from Summit Declarations to real implementation on the ground.

Another positive outcome of Glasgow was the Bezos Earth pledge of $1 billion dollars for landscape restoration in Africa, especially for  the implementation of the Great Green Wall. The pledges to the Great Green Wall are now totaling more than 19 billion dollars. This Africa-led land restoration initiative, which you are familiar with, would not be possible without the incubation of the GEF.

The Great Green Wall is one the concrete examples of a program, which, from its early stages, benefited from the support of the GEF. When only few believed on the Great Green Wall, the GEF saw the potential of a glass half full. Today, banks and other financial institutions are investing on the Great Green Wall. This is a concrete demonstration that investing in nature can be a profitable business, even in the Sahel, one of the harshest conditions on Earth.

UNCCD is working closely with all partners and the 11 countries of  the GGW to develop mechanisms that allow better access to the existing funds to help address land restoration, drought, renewable energies, youth and women’s employment across the Sahel region.

I would like to express our gratitude once again to you, as members of the Council, and to the GEF Secretariat, for your trust and support.

Today, we are happy to see similar initiatives being developed in other parts of the world. Again, a concrete case of what a successful demonstration programme can do, namely, to serve as an example and to emulate. In that respect, the Middle East Green Initiative announced in March 2021 was launched in Riyadh last month. It aims, among others, to restore 200 million hectares across the Greater Middle East.

In parallel, Saudi Arabia launched its own national green initiative, which aims at restoring 40 million hectares of degraded land.

Similar initiatives are already in place in India, Pakistan, China. We are pleased to see other countries developing similar plans, including Mongolia, the countries of the dry corridor of Latin America, as well the countries of Southern Africa, under the SADC umbrella.

In addition, just two weeks ago, I signed in Riyadh an agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to set up the Secretariat of the "G20 Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats”, that is the initiative launched by the G20 leaders under the Saudi G20 Presidency in November 2020.

Under this initiative, the G20 leaders aim to prevent, halt and reverse land degradation across the world through private sector engagement, civil society empowerment, knowledge sharing and development.  The ambition here is to achieve a 50% reduction in degraded land by 2040. This will support other existing initiatives, adding momentum to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Council members,

We, at UNCCD, are now focusing on our upcoming COP15, which will be held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire – the 2nd and 3rd weeks of May of 2022. Two topics are likely to be discussed by Parties amongst others:

Firstly: Parties will review the report of the Intergovernmental working Group on drought, which was set up by the previous COP in New Delhi. Unfortunately, droughts are hitting every year more countries, more communities, more economies, and more ecosystems. As we speak, millions of people are deprived from food and basic needs in Eastern Africa and in Madagascar. It is really heartbreaking to see people starving, large mammals drying literally in the deserts; and millions of hectares of forests burning all over the world.

Secondly: Large scale land restoration is likely to come up as a big topic at the next COP, the world seems to be finally waking up to the importance of nature-based solutions. This movement is now unstoppable. The smartest private investors have gotten the message. It is a critical moment for the GEF as we have on sight the early results of our 30 years of investment in nature.

Thirty years of demonstration, research, and science. The moment has now come to move to large scale.

In my recent trip to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Government authorities expressed their interest in developing what they call a « legacy programme ». As proud hosts to UNCCD COP15 and a country whose economy is largely dependent on agriculture, they want to invest on their best asset, namely: LAND. Hence, boosting long term environmental sustainability across major value chains.  Investing in large-scale sustainable management of land and soils in Côte d’Ivoire is investing in the country’s best asset: its natural capital.

This will help protect and restore forests and lands and improving communities’ resilience to climate change. It’s an opportunity for UNCCD, GEF and other partners to work together to support this programme, which will help restore land and ensure sustainable development. That is the large-scale land management we are inviting GEF partners to consider, when moving ahead with the eighth replenishment of the facility.

Keeping in view the emerging challenges that today’s world is facing, we hope that the replenishment of GEF-8 will find innovative, and creative ways to address these challenges.

UNCCD will continue working with its Parties to set and update their voluntary land degradation neutrality targets and to develop projects to meet these targets.

Most parties have developed national drought plans with UNCCD’s assistance; they are looking for support to implement these plans. Drought is an increasing threat due to the unpredictable changes in the world’s environment and there is a dire need of financing to enhance resilience and implement measures to combat effects of drought.

So, allow me to close reminding us of the two issues that come high in the world’s attention:

  • Drought management and mitigating the impacts of drought.
  • Second, sustainable land management, large-scale land restoration.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are important issues that also concern climate change, biodiversity, food, and human wellbeing. They are at the heart of what GEF is all about, and what GEF-8 should be focusing on.

I thank you.