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As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, one fact has never been more evident – our world, our planet and our lives are inextricably interconnected. There are very few issues that can be considered simply “health problems,” as nearly every aspect of life is connected to other societal, economic and environmental issues. While we recognize the negative impact of tobacco on our health, we tend to think less frequently about the economic impact of tobacco use on health costs and productivity losses. What is even less well known is how tremendously destructive tobacco cultivation and tobacco use is for the environment – on land, water and air.
Opening remarks by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw: As UNCCD, we care about land. We care about people’s livelihoods. We care about ecosystems. Having “Land in balance” is our motto. Reconciling the needs of a growing population -and a growing middle class- on one hand, with the need to protect our land, the most precious resource that provides us with food, fodder, water, air, and energy. I believe this is the first Global Rangelands Atlas ever published. Rangelands are social and economic systems as much as ecosystems, which makes them harder to define. This lack of definition has been a barrier to mapping them, which in turn has been a barrier to building global support to protect them. The Atlas shows that rangelands dominate the drylands, making them hugely important to the UNCCD. If we do not understand land degradation in the rangelands, then we are likely to see investments that are biased towards other land types. Or, even worse, we may see investments that are blind to specific conditions of rangelands, ending up being harmful to its systems. The lack of proper investment in rangelands is a challenge. A challenge we should address head on. Starting with the way we communicate. Our narrative about rangelands is rather reductive. “Rangelands,” “grazing lands,”c “pastoral lands” – all these terms suggest these lands are only used for domestic animals. Is this entirely true? Some say: Rangelands are degraded lands; therefore, they are not worth investing. I am sure the Atlas will debunk that myth. Think about the beautiful National Parks and Landscapes where Tourism is thriving? Where big businesses are being made. Are they not a big part of climate solutions? Are rangelands not biodiversity reservoirs and hot spots? When the extractive industry operates in areas that are rangelands, the land is called something else. I am reminded of the late Taghi Farvar’s 10 myths on mobile pastoralism (https://www.iccaconsortium.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/mobility-myths-Farvar.pdf). Among the myths he argued should be debunked, I chose the following: 1. Pastoralism is an archaic form of production not adapted to modernity. 2. All conflicts are caused by pastoralists. 3. Rangelands are degraded because of over-stocking and overpopulation. 4. Pastoralism destroys biodiversity and leads to desertification. 5. Pastoralists overgraze their land. These are wrong assumptions that are not proven by science. What is generally accepted is that investments in rangelands are low. That the economy of pastoralism has attracted less policy attention, and therefore less political interest. That hundreds of millions of pastoralists from around the world are calling for more attention; more care; more investments. Dear friends, Mapping the rangelands is only the first step in ensuring they are sustainably managed, in line with the LDN targets. We hope this Atlas will inform and influence governments to raise rangelands in their national agendas, to start allocating investments to rangeland restoration, in line with national targets under all 3 Rio Conventions as well as ambitions to improve food and water security and other development goals. The Atlas also helps us to move the conversation forward so that rangelands – half of all land on Earth – can benefit from the UN Decade on ecosystem restoration, the UN Food Systems Summit, and the International Year on Rangelands and Pastoralism in 2026. The opportunities are lining up nicely – the momentum is picking up – and we must keep building pressure to accelerate action. Thank you
The COVID-19 situation is still dire in many regions of the world as COVID-19 mutates. As most of you already know, we lost Mr. Philbert Brown, our National Focal Point in Jamaica. He was an ardent supporter of the Convention and one of our savviest negotiators and consensus builders. Allow me to extend heartfelt sympathies and condolences, on behalf of my staff and I, to members of the UNCCD family and community who have suffered loss of (a) family member(s), colleague or friend. UNCCD staff are holding up well, going beyond the call of duty to serve and support our stakeholder community and following prescribed government procedures of work and for vaccination. We will get through this challenge together. We are also doing our best to use this moment to inform the public, with empathy, first, about the pandemic as one of the unintended consequences of ecosystem degradation. And second, to explain the UNCCD’s contribution in building forward better post COVID-19. UNCCD COP15 postponed to 2022 At COP 14, parties decided that COP15 will be held in Bonn, Germany, in autumn 2021, or at another venue arranged by the secretariat in consultation with the Bureau if no Party made an offer to host that session. The COP Bureau met on 8 April to discuss on COP15 considering the COVID-19 pandemic. It decided to postpone COP15 to 2022. It requested the Secretariat to plan to hold the Conference between May and October 2022 in line with the terms set out for COP15 in the COP14 decision. Presidency of the General Assembly and G-7 leadership in land restoration On Monday, 14 June 2021, the Presidency of the General Assembly is holding the high-level dialogue to assess progress during the decade on desertification in combating desertification, land degradation and drought. Heads of state and government, ministers and other dignitaries have confirmed their participation. Our collaborative efforts to reach the highest levels of government with the message that securing the land has multiple benefits is starting to pay off. During last month’s G-7 meeting hosted by Italy, the leaders discussed the target of achieving land degradation at length. This month, the Biden-Harris administration proposed the intention to carry out conservation and restoration measures to protect up to 30 per cent of the land and waters in the United States. This growing interest by the world’s largest economies to achieve land degradation neutrality signals a political will to invest in the transformative programmes that combine green jobs and good land stewardship. Plans for Desertification and Drought Day (DDD) Costa Rica, host country for this year’s DDD global observance, is planning to organize a high-level event to build on the momentum from these events to raise the ambition for land stewardship globally. Together with the host country, the secretariat will mark the celebration through a 6-hour online webcast. A lot of assets are provided on our website for your use to promote the day locally, and the global online event. The programme includes events addressing every segment of society, policymakers, children, youth, women, the private sector, land users and scientists. Show and share your events by posting them on the UNCCD portal. In this regard, let me draw your attention to this article prepared by Luc Descroix, Senior Researcher at the French institute for research and development, IRD, about what scientists are observing in the Sahel. The regreening of the Sahel has been confirmed year after year since the 1990 with the emergence of dense and perennial agrosystems. He reports on this phenomenon and its impacts in the region in this publication. CRIC19 outcomes I thank our Parties for the successful conclusion of CRIC-19, and the sacrifice most you made to participate or enable others to participate. The Report of the Meeting is available on our website on this link. Parties to the UNFCCC and CBD are organizing virtual negotiating intersessional events in May and June. Their experiences can inform how we approach and plan our future activities. Things to look forward to UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration: We are actively engaged and supporting FAO and UNEP in promoting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which will be launched on World Environment Day on 5 June. One of the sessions, organized with WOCAT, will feature sustainable land management techniques. Participation is free via this link: https://unccd-int.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_JO7cO0eeTyarP5V1rSgZwQ?_x_zm_rtaid=AzAkPXTyTZy7c7DolDwLMg.1620735432301.744dd309f743257530db3f8ef187cfaa&_x_zm_rhtaid=166. SLM specialists from around the world with expertise in mountain, coastal, grassland, forest, cropland, urban and other ecosystems will speak Food Systems Summit: We are actively engaged in the Food Systems Summit taking place in July-August. In May, we have issued this briefing paper (Restored Land, Healthy People, Green Recovery) to shape the discussion. I encourage you to attend the event, and to invite stakeholders and target groups who are influential in this space and/or would benefit from the event Rio Conventions campaigns: The Joint Liaison Group of the Rio Conventions (CBD, UNCCD, UNFCCC) and the Global Environment Facility are developing a joint communications campaign. We aim to promote greater collaboration among actors for a holistic and joined-up approach at the national level among practitioners, advocacy organizations and activists active in the issues our Conventions are working on UNCCD website: We expect to launch an overhauled UNCCD Website in the last quarter of this year. Allow me to thank everyone who responded to the survey. Your contributions have been invaluable in guiding the developers we are working with to design a portal that is attractive, user-friendly, resourceful and demand oriented.
Message by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw: The pandemic has reminded us how much we depend on each other. How much we depend on nature. How much our fate depends on our relationships with nature. How much we need a good political will, combined with collective action, and sustained investment. When these come together, we can make a difference. So, despite the major setbacks we suffered this year, there is hope. Hope that we can build back better from COVID-19. Hope that this year, we can act together on climate change. Hope that this will be a year for decisive action to reverse biodiversity losses. Today is International Day for Biological Diversity, with its theme of “We’re part of the solution”. On behalf of the UNCCD, I want to remind you: sustainable land management is a huge part of the solution. The greatest problems facing humanity – including land degradation, biodiversity loss, and global warming – are closely linked. In studies across the world, land restoration programmes have repeatedly been shown to increase biodiversity by up to half. It’s not just biodiversity that benefits. Better food and water security, reduced carbon emissions, and healthy air quality can all be delivered by land restoration. This is how we build a greener, healthier, and more sustainable future. We already have the tools – like responsible land governance, and investments that protect and restore nature. Let’s use them. Together, we can all be a part of the solution in 2021.
Statement by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw The Biden-Harris Administration last week outlined its vision of how the United States can conserve and restore 30 per cent of its land and waters by 2030. The report titled, Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful, identifies six priority areas of action. It calls for the establishment of a tool that shows better the voluntary contributions farmers, ranchers, tribal leaders, forest and private landowners make in this process. I welcome this remarkable step taken by the Biden-Harris Administration within the first six months of being in office. The vision outlined by the Administration is commendable in many ways. The announcement came two weeks ahead of the high-level dialogue on desertification, land degradation and drought convened on 20 May 2021 by the President of the United Nations General Assembly. The purpose is to mobilize political will to restore degrading lands as part of the post-COVID19 pandemic recovery process. Leading by example will inspire action among leaders who have yet to make commitments to join the global effort to restore as much land as possible by 2030. The benefits are immense. We can slow climate change, halt biodiversity loss, increase food production and create green jobs without clearing new forests or put the Earth at greater risk. Halting and reversing current trends could generate up to USD 1.4 trillion per year of economic benefits. More than two billion hectares of land is degraded globally. So far, countries have earmarked about one billion hectares for restoration by 2030. The voluntary national target to restore conserve and restore 30 percent of US land and waters will motivate other countries and raise the ambition to restore all two billion hectares. The G-20 Initiative set up last December will contribute to support for this restoration. But a lot more is needed. The private sector, foundations, governments not yet engaged and individuals, all need to join in. So far, 127 countries have committed to set up voluntary national targets to avoid, reduce and restore degrading land. Of these, 104 have already set targets to restore land in an area that is now well over 400 million hectares –a size larger than India. The Biden-Harris Vision was developed through a consultative process. The administration consulted tribal leaders, governors, members of congress and their staff, scientists, elected county and state officials, environmental advocacy organizations, representatives of fishing, farming, hunting, trade and industry. Consultation is tedious but getting everyone’s buy-in is the key to success. The Administration has signaled that it is focused on long-term change and believes that acting together in this area is consistent with America’s values and interests. We have run out of time. It is my hope that the vision outlined by the Biden-Harris Administration will be realized quickly and successfully. I am encouraged by the actions countries have taken since the pandemic started in 2020 to prioritize good land stewardship in charting the path to a sustainable future. I urge all UN member states to raise the ambition for 2030 to the restoration of all two billion hectares of land.
There is growing evidence of regreening in the Sahel. It is widespread. It cuts across the entire area, and it’s dynamic. In fact, almost all of West Africa is experiencing this regreening that is considered the ultimate weapon in the fight against global warming. Sahelians also growing valuable trees that act as natural air conditioners, provide food and ertilize the land in the Sahel in ways that could be making a difference to resilience that is far better than elsewhere in the world.