Government officials, representatives from academia, private sector, colleagues, and friends,
We would like to express our appreciation to the Government of China, to our local host, the Government of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, to the Elion Group, for the organization of this event.
I am delighted to be here today, in this inspirational place called Kubuqi desert, representing the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, participating as Co-organizers of the 9th Kubuqi International Desert Forum on “Science and technology to empower restoration, to let deserts benefit mankind.”
I’m humbled and honored to be here representing UNCCD, the voice of land.
Let me start by acknowledging what science is telling us: we depend on healthy land to feed our societies, to shelter and clothe our communities, to guarantee water security, to support our economies, our ecosystems, our livelihoods. Healthy land is crucial to guarantee stability, to reduce conflicts – in a nutshell, we depend on healthy land to generate prosperity and an inclusive sustainable development model.
And if this is not enough to make the case for land, healthy land is crucial to achieve the climate and biodiversity goals. As you just heard, we will not achieve the SDGs, the Paris, and Kunming-Montreal targets if we don’t protect, manage and restore our lands.
And the land challenge is huge: according to the GLO II report, up to 40 per cent of the global land has been degraded, and if the current trend continues we will degrade 16 million square km – an area the size of South America.
If we link this environmental degradation with what we’re seeing in terms of drought, where critical events are hitting countries all over the globe, we can see a perfect storm, with severe impacts for our economies, and societies, particularly to those most vulnerable countries, where their development gains will be lost.
When we recognize that drought is not just the absence of rain, but it is often the result of poor land management, then we start connecting the dots.
This means that we’re facing an interlinked crisis of land/biodiversity/climate/pollution and it’s the reason why we need to implement multiple-benefits solutions. Investing in land restoration, in combating desertification and drought is one of these solutions, it’s a win- win solution.
Each dollar invested in restoring degraded land returns between $US7 and $US30 in benefits.
The good news is that we, as different civilizations that co-exist in this planet, we, have the knowledge and the technologies to address this existential challenge, and that Kubuqi Desert is a practical demonstration that we can reverse land degradation and at the same time generate wealth, green jobs, and other socio-economic benefits.
Colleagues and friends,
We need to accelerate action on the ground and unleash the transformative power of collaboration, knowledge sharing, partnerships, innovation and technology. For instance, we must scale up the existing partnerships between the countries of the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, and different institutions and countries, including the government of China, through south-south and triangular cooperation.
We must engage the private sector, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, and acknowledge that this is an effort of the entire society. This is why the engagement of entities like the Elion Foundation in the fight against desertification is so important. In the case of UNCCD, it was instrumental to boost the Land for Life Award, and the Land Heroes youth engagement program. We deeply appreciate Elion’s dedication and commitment.
We take this opportunity to congratulate China and the League of Arab States on the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the China-Arab international research center on drought, desertification and land degradation that will be signed at the end of this session and welcome its potential contributions to the Middle East green initiatives.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Land restoration and drought resilience need to become priorities for all decision makers, local governments, CEOs and entrepreneurs, particularly in the global south.
We need to inspire, connect and act based on the Kubuqi example, and other wonderful initiatives we’re seeing around the globe.
But most importantly, we need to make the next UNCCD COP16, which will be held in December 2024 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the moonshot moment for the land restoration and drought resilience agenda – for people, for planet and for prosperity.
I wish the Forum many fruitful outcomes and we hope to see you in Riyadh next year. Thank you!