Statement by Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification on the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Second Committee
Agenda item 18 (e)
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa
New York, 10 October 2022
Madame Chairperson, [Ambassador Lachezara Stoeva]
I have the honor to introduce Secretary General report on the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
Of the many challenges which continue to impede our sustainable development, allow me to focus on two main issues at the center of UNCCD’s efforts: Land degradation and Drought.
These two issues bear other names. They can be called:
- food sovereignty;
- water security,
- social stability, or
- inclusive economic growth.
By reducing land loss and building resilience to drought, humanity can indeed avert many of the global crises we are faced with.
Land degradation reduces the productivity of our soils; affects food security and plunges millions into poverty and hunger.
Droughts hit more and more frequently, intensified by climate change.
The images of the dry soil and vegetation, dry lakes, riverbeds and the wildfires that affected Europe this Summer are fresh in our memory.
As we speak, Somalia and other countries in the Horn of Africa are on the brink of famine.
In the western United States, the past two decades have been the driest in 1,200 years.
Dry spells amplify wildfires, adding up to the hardships, sowing desolation and devastation on their passage.
Droughts and floods are twins. Long droughts are often followed by severe floods, washing away land and crops.
These extreme events take a heavy toll on the societies and economies. Too often, they take human lives.
Extreme droughts rob us of our dignity, even of our humanity.
By 2050, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population.
But drought is not just the absence of rain, it is often amplified by poor land management.
Our studies show that up to 40% of the planet’s land is degraded, directly affecting half of humanity and threatening nearly half of the global GDP.
The good news is that activities of land restoration are accessible to all.
Land restoration has huge multiple benefits.
- It generates revenue for local populations
- it creates employment for the youth
- it increases agricultural production and responds to food crisis
Madam Chair, delegates,
The future does not need to be daunting. The good news is that the world has begun to act.
There is an increased global awareness of the importance to address drought and land degradation.
Just at the last UNCCD-COP held this past May in Côte d’Ivoire, Heads of State committed to giving heightened priority to the issues of drought and land loss.
To help Parties turn commitments into action, UNCCD is facilitating and supporting transformative initiatives, such as the Great Green Wall Initiative in the African Sahel.
The African Union’s AFR100 initiative also aims at restoring 100 million hectares.
Similarly, the Middle East Green initiative spearheaded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia aims at restoring 200 million hectares of land across the greater Middle East.
Launched at the recent UNCCD COP, the Abidjan Legacy Programme will help future-proof commodity value chains while tackling deforestation and climate change.
You may already be informed about the G-20 Global land restoration initiative which aims at reducing land degradation by 50% by 2040.
Other significant initiatives include:
- land restoration in the Dry Corridor of Latin America
- regional large-scale land restoration in the Southern Africa region,
- massive restoration efforts in China; Pakistan and Mongolia
- just last week, India announced the mobilization of its massive social security scheme to fund a nation-wide land restoration programme.
The list of ongoing land programs is far from exhaustive.
Dozens of billions of dollars are being mobilized to protect earth’s skin and reduce the scars we have inflicted on its face.
Step by step decision-makers, financial institutions are understanding that every dollar invested in restoring degraded land brings up to 30 US dollars in economic returns.
As you know, every hectare of land we bring back to health will help us to immunize against climate change and biodiversity loss.
Every inch of healthy soil, every drop of clean water, every endemic tree, every plot of grassland is a vaccine against poverty, conflict and forced migration.
So we are making some progress. This needs to be appreciated.
However, much more needs to be done.
Transformative policy frameworks, market signals and initiatives need to be implemented, building on the increased awareness that land restoration is an energy and food solution, a climate solution, a nature solution, a solution to boost livelihoods, jobs, and welfare.
Madam Chair, distinguished delegates,
Successfully restoring land, however, calls for improving women’s access to land.
During UNCCD’s COP15, the First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire hosted a High-level Gender Caucus. The caucus, supported by a specific UNCCD study, provided new evidence on how women are particularly affected by land degradation and drought.
Few facts emanating from the study show that women make up nearly half of the world’s agriculture workforce.
Yet, in the vast majority of countries, women have unequal and limited access to land.
Without land titles, women have no access to credit and technology.
Owning no land and not being part of the decision making, women have a limited role is sustaining land health.
In addition to being unfair, such inequalities are a hinderance to any economic development and to achieving sustainable development goals.
Second, in areas where water and firewood are scarce, the burden of fetching them fall on women. They spend long hours carrying heavy loads, to the risk of breaking their backs.
This brings me to the recommendations as set for in the report of the Secretary General:
- Women’s land rights: we need appropriate legal frameworks for women’s land rights. We need to actively work to close this gender gap if we are to succeed in achieving key SDGs.
- Building the world’s resilience to droughts was highlighted as an urgent issue. The General Assembly may want to give it a particular consideration.
- Addressing forced migration and displacement driven by desertification and land degradation is essential to protect young people from illicit activities.
In concluding, I would like to take this opportunity to convey our appreciation to the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire for the superb hosting of COP15.
Allow me also to congratulate and thank the Government of Uzbekistan, which will host next year the upcoming session of the subsidiary body.
COP15 also decided to convene its 16th Conference of the Parties in Saudi Arabia in 2024 and its 17th session in Mongolia in 2026.
I wish to thank both governments for their leadership.
Thank you for your kind attention.