Welcoming US President’s Executive Order on Climate Change

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Statement by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw

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Joseph Biden Jr., President of the United States, issued an Executive Order yesterday outlining the bold steps his administration will take to tackle the climate crisis at home and throughout the world. I welcome this decision and the President’s offer to host a Leaders Climate Summit in April.

President Biden’s Executive Order moves forward the goals he set on his first day in office. The actions laid out are expected, among other results, to revitalize the country’s energy sector, conserve natural resources and leverage them to drive the country toward a clean energy future and deliver justice for communities that have been subjected to environmental harm.

These actions are not only bold. They reflect the policy priorities that people all over the world are demanding. People want responses on climate change to focus on the land and forests, according to the largest survey ever conducted of public opinion on climate change.

The conservation of land and forests, a switch to renewable energies and adopting climate-friendly farming techniques are the top three calls to action identified through a global poll conducted by the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with Oxford University, and others. Over 1.2 million people in 50 countries that make up 56 percent of the global population responded to the poll.

The public has witnessed the dangers of land use change across all countries. And it is not just in the loss of species or of productive land. It is in the increase in extraordinary and dangerous weather events such as hurricanes, droughts and floods. It is in recurrent food shortages and crop failures. It is from the society-wide impacts of a pandemic of the kind that is linked to land use change. And it is in these impacts worsening with every passing year. It is not a question of whether change is possible. It is whether the will to change exists.

More than 70 percent of the natural ecosystems are significantly altered already according to a Special Report of the authoritative Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. One in every five hectares is degraded beyond repair, according to country reports submitted to this Convention. At the same time, close to 800 million hectares of degrading land can be restored to health. About 250 million hectares of this is farmland.

Reversing these processes will create green jobs and offer multiple benefits. It will revitalize farmlands where communities are falling behind. It is an opportunity to turn unusable land into clean energy farms. It will discourage the conversion of natural land, reduce emissions from the land and sequester significant amounts of carbon into the soil.

The public is asking us to build back better for a resilient future through better decisions and smart plans. We know what needs to be done and where, and the framework for action exists. We must stop financing activities that encourage land users to convert natural ecosystems into other uses. Instead, finance must be directed to three concrete activities. First, better foresting activities. Second, fixing land that was converted and damaged. And third, farming practices that fix the land while increasing its output.

This is a time like no other. We know what the public wants. I call on world leaders to heed the public’s call for bold policy actions on the land.

For more information, contact: Wagaki Wischnewski, wwischnewski@unccd.int