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Meeting with African Group Ambassadors

Remarks by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw: Your Excellency Chairperson Ambassador Ammo Aziza Baroud, Excellencies Permanent Representatives, Ambassador Fatima Mohamed, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is indeed a real pleasure to address you today in my capacity as the Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, a Convention that Africa pushed for at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and which bears a special focus on Africa. My brief today will be focused on the impact of LAND DEGRADATION in Africa’s economic and social development. A continent whose economic growth over the last 25 years has been remarkably steady, though the impact of such growth has been somehow muted by a series of factors. Among them, the loss of productive land while the number of people to feed kept growing fast. It’s a complex equation: (i) the demand on Africa’s natural resources keeps growing, exacerbated by a steady demographic growth and by externalities such as trade and illicit activities. (ii) ecosystems and the services they provide are shrinking, due to desertification (land degradation), climate change and drought According to UNEP, the African continent has already lost more than 60% of its agricultural land since 1950. If we know that the population has been grown by more than 440% between 1950 and 2020, we have at least partial response to the equation. Here is the next parameter: according to the Economics of Land Degradation, the costs of land degradation are estimated at USD 127 B per year (almost twice as much as total ODA that flowed to Africa in 2019). Some countries in Africa have seen up to 95% of their land affected by desertification (Eswatini); 66% for Angola; 64% for Gabon…This is not specific to one sub-region, though the Sahel is arguably one of the most vulnerable region in the world where desertification is already having tragic consequences. Whether its Egypt or Algeria, Libya or Mauritania, no country is spared in the North Africa sub-region. The vulnerability comes from the fact that up to 94% of agriculture is dependent on few millimeters of rainfall, and few centimeters of topsoil. This explains why Africa’s economy is very dependent of droughts. Actually, no country in Africa is immune to drought. No country is well prepared. Years of droughts generally correspond to years of economic downturn. Years of sorrow and loss. Years of despair. Some experts estimate that two thirds of Africa’s arable land may be lost by 2025, if this trend continues. If I had more time, I would have spoken at length about the multiple consequences of Sand and Dust Storms, which affect our health and our economy. Sand Dust Storms affect the productivity of our land, the security of our navigation systems (hamper our air and marine traffic). And now, the pandemic. And the rate of extreme poverty and hunger has increased for the first time in 30 years. When you lose your only resource, your only source of income, what else is there to do? Indeed, when the productive land is degraded, jobs are lost; when cities are pushing people back to rural areas, when families have no other source of revenue, land and nature are the only safe heaven there is. Nature is the GDP of the poor.  As your Governments engage onto rebuilding affected economies, I see the COVID-19 crisis as a wake-up call and the recovery from the pandemic as an opportunity. This brings me to my main message: Land restoration needs to be at the center of all our post-COVID recovery efforts. For Africa perhaps more than in other regions of the world, land restoration and sustainable land management are among the best long-term responses to the pandemic. Let me come to the good news: land restoration provides multiple solutions: Land degradation is reversible. And it can be as cheap as a couple of hundred dollars per ha Transforming degraded land and turning it back to production Land restoration creates green jobs. It is a labor-intensive activity Targeting rural women and youth: reduce vulnerabilities and forced migration, creating economic opportunities Land restoration: combatting climate change and reducing biodiversity loss When asked: since Africa only contributes to 7.1% of the total emissions, what could be its best contribution to the Paris Agreement? Say Land restoration. By turning one stone through land restoration, you achieve both mitigation and adaptation. Land restoration puts carbon back in the soil where it belongs: the land-use sector, through a combination of conservation, sustainable management, and restoration, has great potential to reduce emissions and sequester carbon.  Land represents our largest sink for carbon. When asked what could be the best contribution of Africa to the Biodiversity Loss? Say Sustainable Land Management. When asked how best can Africa mitigate the impact of Drought? Say Landscape Approach. Resilience building; or perhaps early warning and management. Science tells us that investing in large-scale land restoration to combat desertification, soil erosion and loss of agricultural production is a win-win solution. It is a win for the environment. It is a win for the economy, and for the livelihoods of local communities. In this respect, I have good news for you.  The current total of all restoration commitments by countries is close to 1 billion hectares, half of which are in Africa. This is a huge commitment from a continent that has always played its role in multilateral processes. On the other hand, Africa is choking to an unbearable  debt. In our opinion, options to manage this economic crisis should include debt swaps. Debt for Large-scale Land Restoration would be an elegant win-win option. A relief to national economies and a response to global challenges including climate, desertification and biodiversity. Excellencies, Let me appraise you of some recent developments happening in the life of this Convention with a strong support never seen before, documenting, again, the momentum on land restoration. First, at the G20 recent summit, under the Saudi Presidency, a milestone decision was taken. At that Summit, G20 leaders launched “the Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats” to prevent, halt, and reverse land degradation.  Building on existing initiatives, leaders share the ambition to achieve a 50 percent reduction in degraded land by 2040. In their communiqué, the G20 Ministers of Environment underscored that land restoration and the avoidance of habitat loss are often cost-effective solutions to addressing the biodiversity crisis and other key environmental challenges.  Consultations with Italy, current Chair of the G20, are ongoing to maintain this crucial momentum on land restoration. Second, at the One Planet Summit held in Paris on 11 January 2021, the Great Green Wall of the Sahel received a major boost. President Macron of France played a key role, which we truly appreciate. The Great Green Wall received major financial support, with close to USD 17 billion committed by financial institutions, global funds, and donors. Third: just this past weekend, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced major restoration initiatives: one national and one covering the GCC countries. A new commitment covering 240 million hectares, to be restored to slow down desertification, biodiversity loss and climate change. We feel that time for large-scale restoration has come. Land Restoration is a low-tech and cheap technology. A solution to multiple crisis the world is faced with. We are aware and support the ongoing initiative in the SADC region. We hope that other sub-regions will mobilize their political leaders and experts to develop their own regional or national initiatives. Allow me to finish with the UNGA High Level Dialogue due for May 20. You may have received the invitation from the PGA for a HLD on DLDD. I know many African Missions to New York are members of the GoF on DLDD. A Group that is actually co-chaired by the proud African Nation of Namibia. I would urge your respective governments to: Make the African voices heard at the upcoming High-level dialogue on desertification, land degradation and drought that the President of the General Assembly will convene on 20 May 2021. Encourage the participation of African Heads of State and Heads of Governments by pre-recorded videos to be played in the Plenary Hall during the High-level debate; Support the prospect of establishing a like-minded group which could be called “Coalition on the Stewardship of Land”, a sort of political platform that aims to mobilize political leaders, corporations, and other non-state actors in support of land restoration. Thank you.

Meeting with African Group Ambassadors
World Water Day 2021

Statement by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw: All of our planet’s inhabitants – humanity, and all wildlife species – require water to survive. We learn very young that life cannot exist without water. Yet over 2 billion people still lack access to safe water today. This year’s World Water Day celebrates the theme ‘Valuing water.’ This fundamental need has enormous and complex value for our societies, households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the sustainability of our environment. Global water use has increased sixfold over the past 100 years, driven by intensive agriculture and population growth. The demand for water just in food production may reach 13 trillion cubic metres annually by 2050 – 3.5 times greater than the total human use today. The importance of water for land is obvious: humanity’s relentless production and consumption relies heavily on water use and is a prime cause of desertification and land degradation. In a warming world beset by weather extremes, droughts will become more common, more intense, and more prolonged in many places – including places already at the margins of habitability. Drought and desertification are not just problems for the global South. We already see impacts, and land degradation, in highly productive and populated parts of the developed world – including California, Spain and Australia. Land degradation and desertification reduce evapotranspiration, disrupting regional rainfall patterns. In contrast, healthy land promotes consistent seasonal and annual rainfall and aids flood mitigation, soil health and aquifer recharge, helping to bring back landscapes from the brink. The UNCCD’s Drought Initiative is working globally to support our Parties to develop drought preparedness systems, spearheading regional efforts to reduce drought vulnerability and risk. Our Drought toolbox provides resources to support actions that aim to boost the resilience of people and ecosystems. Land restoration is a vital ally to World Water Day. As we celebrate today, let’s remember that we must value water and land equally as part of the same challenge – to build a better, more equal, healthier planet post COVID-19.

World Water Day 2021
International Day of Forests 2021

Statement by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw: This year’s International Day of Forests theme of ‘Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being’ emphasizes the role forests must play in building a better, heathier and more equitable world as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.  We need forests to absorb our emitted carbon dioxide, to stabilize rainfall patterns, lower temperatures, and to hold back desertification. Yet, we continue to destroy them: an alarming fifty million hectares of forests have been lost between 2015 and 2020. Research suggests tree mortality in some forests has doubled in recent decades as a result of a drying climate and chronic anthropogenic disturbance. Ensuring that forests don’t just survive but thrive is a cornerstone of the UNCCD’s mandate to achieve land degradation neutrality. The seedlings and saplings we plant today will support our well-being for generations to come.  Africa’s Great Green Wall across the Sahel has the potential to transform the lives of millions of humanity’s most vulnerable people. By creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes, it can provide stability, livelihoods and a path out of poverty. We’ll create green jobs, harnessing the Sahel’s abundant solar energy to power a future for those most at risk. We are not just planting trees –we are planting hope for the most vulnerable – women and youth.  We can restore forests and restore hope, in tandem. We can turn the economic catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic into a better, heathier and more equitable world. Forests are also threatened by human conflict. In politically unstable situations, the management of natural resources is challenging. Rapid reconstruction often neglects sustainable management of natural resources, undermining future peace. The Peace Forest Initiative, launched at UNCCD COP 14, aims to nurture collective efforts for cross-border cooperation on ecosystem restoration including forests, linking stability and peace to land degradation neutrality. This year, let us reaffirm our will to act. Seeing our forests renewed will help humanity recover better, become more resilient, and restore our planet’s health – for all our futures. Read more Forests at the heart of land degradation neutrality Great Green Wall of Africa Peace Forest Initiative

International Day of Forests 2021
UNCCD CRIC19 closing remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Monsieur le Président du CRIC, Monsieur le Vice-Président, Cinq jours de débats en ligne, en raison de 2 heures par jour, n’auront naturellement pas suffi pour remplir pleinement notre mandat de revue de la mise en œuvre de la Convention. La situation est loin d’être idéale. Grâce à votre coopération, aux talents et à la patience de votre présidence, vous avez néanmoins pu échanger, réitérer vos points de vue et donné des directives à votre Secrétariat. Je puis vous assurer que nous avons pris note de votre feed-back et de vos orientations. Comme vous le savez, la pandémie continue de se propager dans le monde, jetant une certaine incertitude sur la tenue de notre COP15 aux dates et conditions fixées par la décision 33 de la dernière conférence des parties. Nous allons soumettre des options au Bureau de la COP lors de sa réunion du 8 avril prochain, et vous tiendrons naturellement informé des directives et orientations que nous aurons reçues. Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, Land has nourished humanity for millennia. It can safely provide us with its good services for many more. But only if we must stop destroying the land in the name of short-term, and ultimately destructive, economic growth. We must instead protect the land. Through adopting less land-hungry production systems. Through adopting more sustainable consumption patterns. Individually and collectively: our diets, our clothing, the food we waste or lose. The forests we abuse. The water we misuse. Humanity ought to treat land for what it is: a finite resource. We must instead better manage the land. Through sustainable and efficient management techniques that grow more food with less land and water. Through regenerative practices such as organic agriculture and agroforestry. We must instead restore the land. Through delivering on existing commitments to restore one billion hectares of degraded land. Through adopting a landscape approach, not a shortsighted, spot-focused view. Through repairing the planet, conserving its vital biodiversity. Storing emitted carbon back to the soil where it belongs. Through turning degraded land back to production. To future generations, the slash and burn is no different from an attitude of scorched earth. Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen, We ought to grab the tryptic of protect-manage-restore land. This begins with using COVID-19 recovery packages to enhance investments and policies promoting sustainable land management. Successful post-COVID economic recovery programs should target land managers and small-holder farmers. Those millions of producers, Those indigenous people, Those women producers, Those rangers who protect our beautiful tourist destinations, whose work is often invisible to many, are unsung heroes of our economy. They sustain their livelihoods thanks to land. Land is their only asset. Their only capital. In fact, land is OUR real collective capital. Indeed, combatting land degradation requires us to reach out to players beyond the confines of our convention focal ministries. We should engage every ministry, business, community, and policy makers that impact on the land. As you discussed during this meeting, mitigating the impact of drought requires a multi-pronged approach. Disaster risk reduction; building the resilience of farmers and pastoralists; stress-testing our national economies; developing compensation packages to assist, as appropriate, the most vulnerable. If we take our chance to protect, manage and restore the land, the benefits will be immense. We will accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis. Slow climate change and protect biodiversity. Free millions of people from poverty and hunger. Help to create a world of peace, prosperity, and equity. This, dear ladies, and gentlemen, is our collective vision. And it is one we can make a reality, together. Excellences, Mesdames et Messieurs, Permettez-moi de conclure par des remerciements : À vous tous, délégués et observateurs, pour votre engagement, votre clairvoyance Au Président du CRIC, et son vice-président, qui ont conduit nos travaux avec compétence et patience A nos collègues de UNOG pour leur capacité à s’adapter et pour la qualité du service A nos interprètes sans lesquelles notre réunion serait une belle cacophonie Vous me permettrez aussi que j’adresse une mention très spéciale au personnel de l’UNCCD (Secrétariat et Mécanisme mondiale) pour leur excellent travail. Je suis très fier de l’engagement, l’agilité, la créativité et de la capacité d’adaptation de cette équipe. Merci pour ce que vous êtes. Merci pour ce que vous faites. Merci à tous.

UNCCD CRIC19 closing remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
GEO-LDN competition winner announced

The Group on Earth Observation Land Degradation Neutrality (GEO-LDN) Initiative announced the winner of its international technology innovation competition on the development of tools to support land use planning for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). The team that presented the “LUP4LDN”(Land Use Planning for Land Degradation Neutrality) tool won the competition and will receive financial and technical support valued at USD 100,000 to transform their prototype into an operational and scalable tool. LUP4LDN integrates LDN into participatory land use planning via an interface that allows users to evaluate land use and land management transition scenarios, providing visual and quantitative representation of land degradation gains and losses. “LUP4LDN supports users to answer where is most crucial to focus land restoration efforts and what sustainable land management interventions are optimal and feasible ito achieve LDN” said Pythagoras Karampiperis, CEO of SCiO, and leader of the LUP4LDN team, which includes experts in agriculture, sustainable land management, land preservation and conservation, as well as users from Tunisia and Burkina Faso. On behalf of the Jury Panel, Douglas Cripe, Senior Scientific Adviser at the Group on Earth Observation Secretariat, highlighted the achievements of the winning team during an online award ceremony in the margins of UNCCD CRIC19. “Of the tools presented, the LUP4LDN tool is the most innovative and the most directly responsive to the Competition’s challenge. LUP4LDN goes beyond analyzing data –  it brings stakeholders together. It directly facilitates collaborative land use planning and the process guidance provided is applicable globally. We recognize the value of the tool in training land use planners toward embedding LDN in planning processes,” said Cripe. In his welcoming remarks, Neil Sims, Co-Chair of the GEO-LDN Initiative and Chair of the Jury Panel, expressed his satisfaction in the large turnout for the competition. “We received entries from 23 teams, with participants from 36 countries across all continents, which reflects the significance of land degradation to countries around the world. The high level of engagement for this competition also demonstrated the value of coordination efforts such as the GEO-LDN Initiative,” he added.    Other finalists included the LDN Analytics tool, developed by a team led by Vanja Westerberg, co-Founder of Altus Impact, jointly with Simon Reynolds and Luis Costa, and users from Haiti and Ghana; and the Multi-layered Land-Dynamics Tool (ML-LDT) developed by a team led by Claudio Zucca, University of Sassari, and technical implementers and users from the Republic of Korea, India and Mongolia. “We would like to thank all three finalists' teams for their outstanding efforts, their contribution toward more transparent and well-informed land use planning and management, and their commitment to solving one of the world’s greatest environmental challenges,” said the jury in its official statement. “We were very impressed by the quality and the diversity of the finalists' tools, with approaches ranging from neural networks to expert knowledge. Through the direct engagement and co-development of the tools with end users from Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, the finalists' teams created tools that have the potential to better address the specific context, behaviors and expectations of the people who will directly interact with the technology. Especially in these difficult times, the competition provided an indispensable space for innovation and collaborative action,” said the Jury. In her closing remarks, Sara Minelli, Programme Officer at the UNCCD Secretariat, invited country Parties to express their interest in supporting further development, testing and pioneering of the winning tool. On behalf of the UNCCD Science Policy Interface, which was represented in the jury panel by Nichole Berger and Peter Verburg, Minelli said: “Land use planning is the place where different land objectives come together to enhance productivity and support livelihoods, while conserving biodiversity and combating climate change. The tools developed for this competition will provide the critical step for policy makers to include LDN in land use planning. We look forward to watching how these winning solutions – will contribute to bringing a scientific understanding of LDN into land use planning practice.” For more information or to express interest in supporting further development and testing of the winning tool, please contact Ms. Sara Minelli sminelli@unccd.int, Programme Officer on Monitoring and Assessment. Learn more:  LUP4LDN tool at a glance LUP4LDN demonstration Statement of the jury GEO-LDN Competition Competition playlist on UNCCD YouTube channel GEO-LDN Initiative

GEO-LDN competition winner announced