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Signing of COP16 host country agreement with Saudi Arabia: Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Your Excellency Minister Abdulrahman Al-Fadley, Honorable Ministers and Deputy ministers, Dear Colleagues and friends, It’s an honor for me to sign this agreement, on behalf of the United Nations, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as host to the Conference of the Parties (COP16) of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). I would like to thank Minister Al-Fadley, and through you, the Government and people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The moment could not be more solemn: today we have signed more than a Host Country Agreement. We are sealing the commitment between two Parties, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations, to join forces, to forge daily relationships, to build bridges across oceans and continents in order to make Riyadh, from 2 to 13 December 2024, the Multilateral Capital of the World, as far as our relations with the land are concerned. We are building an umbrella under which vulnerable populations around the world will find protective shelter to build their resilience in the face of severe and destructive droughts. Indeed, Saudi Arabia, its people and its Leadership will welcome tens of thousands of participants to the sixteenth session (COP16) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Land Degradation and Mitigate the Effects of Drought. Between the time we sign this agreement and the time we actually hold the Conference of the Parties, humanity will have degraded some 100 million hectares of fertile land. Over the same period, it is feared that hundreds of millions of people will be hit by severe droughts, with no safety valve or protective cushion. During the same period, women, children and other vulnerable groups will find themselves forced to flee from poverty, often venturing on extraordinarily perilous odysseys. Unless exceptional measures are taken, the loss of soil and productive land will lead to further conflicts over access to land and water, further food insecurity and, in some cases, a total loss of food sovereignty. Ladies and Gentlemen, COP16 will put a human face on these so-called natural or ecological phenomena. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of this global treaty, COP16 will take place at a pivotal moment for our Convention. It is the time to move from strategies, plans and other methodological visions to action. It is the time to transform pledges into operations on the ground. Having realized how much we have scarred the face of the earth, we need to heal the wounds, not only to make the earth more beautiful, but to enable it to provide us with more vital services. We need the land. Land does not need us. We live off the land, it feeds us, clothes us and waters us. COP 16 gives humanity the opportunity not only to review its relationship with nature, but also to save itself from the perils it is inflicting on itself. Riyadh, in December, will be this nurturing and refreshing oasis in the middle of the desert. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be offering the representatives of the 197 Contracting Parties to the UNCCD and many other stakeholders not only its legendary hospitality but also a strong sense of solidarity and shared commitment.   We hope the world will heed our urgent call and this generous invitation from our hosts to come together in Riyadh for COP16 and secure our land's future. Thank you. Shukran.

Signing of COP16 host country agreement with Saudi Arabia: Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
Saudi Arabia to host largest-ever UN conference on land and drought

Riyadh, 31 January 2024 – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) signed an agreement paving the way for the 16th session of the Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP16) in Riyadh from 2-13 December 2024.  The Riyadh COP16 will be the largest-ever meeting of UNCCD’s 197 Parties, the first to be held in the Middle East region and the largest multilateral conference ever hosted by Saudi Arabia. 2024 also marks the 30th anniversary of the UNCCD, one of the three major environmental treaties known as the Rio Conventions, alongside climate change and biodiversity.  At the signing ceremony in Riyadh today, Eng. Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen AlFadley, Saudi Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture and COP16 President, said: “The hosting of the conference (COP16) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reflects the commitment of the wise leadership to environmental protection at the national, regional, and international levels. Additionally, Saudi Arabia launched several groundbreaking environmental projects, such as the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative.”  UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said: “Today, we are losing fertile lands at an alarming rate, jeopardizing global stability, prosperity and sustainability. The Riyadh COP16 must mark a turning point in the way we treat our most precious resource—land—and collectively tackle the global drought emergency.”  According to UNCCD data, up to 40 per cent of the world’s land is degraded, affecting half of humanity and with dire consequences for our climate, biodiversity and livelihoods. If current trends continue, restoring 1.5 billion hectares of land by 2030 will be necessary to achieve a land-degradation-neutral world.   Droughts are hitting more often and harder all over the world—up by 29 per cent since 2000—driven by climate change but also the way we manage our land. One-quarter of the world’s population is already affected by droughts, with every three out of four people around the world projected to face water scarcity by 2050.  The Riyadh COP16 will focus on mobilizing governments, businesses and communities worldwide to accelerate action on land restoration and drought resilience as a cornerstone of food, water and energy security.   The two-week event will feature a high-level segment, as well as associated events including the Gender Caucus and the Business for Land Forum.   Taking place in the most water-scarce region and one that is severely affected by desertification and land degradation, the Riyadh COP16 will showcase efforts underway in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East region and beyond towards a green transition based on sustainable land stewardship.   For more information, please contact: Wael A Bushah, Managing Director, Environmental Awareness and Capabilities Enhancement, Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Xenya Scanlon, Chief, Communications, External Relations and Partnerships, UNCCD,   UNCCD Press Office,, +49 228 815 2820,, @unccd #UNited4Land #COP16Riyadh #UNCCDCOP16 About UNCCD The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the global vision and voice for land. We unite governments, scientists, policymakers, private sector and communities around a shared vision and global action to restore and manage the world’s land for the sustainability of humanity and the planet. Much more than an international treaty signed by 197 parties, UNCCD is a multilateral commitment to mitigating today’s impacts of land degradation and advancing tomorrow’s land stewardship in order to provide food, water, shelter and economic opportunity to all people in an equitable and inclusive manner.

Saudi Arabia to host largest-ever UN conference on land and drought