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UNCCD Executive Secretary welcomes Simon Stiell’s appointment to lead UN Climate Change Convention

Bonn, 15 August 2022 – Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), welcomed the announcement of Grenada’s former minister for climate resilience and the environment Simon Stiell as the next Executive Secretary to lead the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Stiell’s appointment was announced earlier today by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres following the endorsement by the UNFCCC Bureau. Ibrahim Thiaw, who in addition to his ongoing functions as UNCCD Executive Secretary has also served as UNFCCC Acting Executive Secretary since 17 July 2022 and was a member of the team that pre-selected Simon Stiell, said: “I warmly congratulate Simon Stiell on his appointment and look forward to his leadership in the years ahead and to working closely with him in preparing for the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh this November. As someone who hails from a vulnerable Caribbean island nation, Simon Stiell knows first-hand the profound and immediate impacts of climate change on finite land and water resources. At a time when we are seeing record-breaking heatwaves, severe droughts and devastating wildfires across many parts of the world, we must more than ever unite our efforts to build resilience and protect people and planet.”. “Land and climate are inextricably linked. Sustainable land management can be a big part of the climate solution that can help keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees—we cannot afford to miss this chance. Every fraction of a degree of temperature rise is a matter of life and death to millions, especially the most vulnerable people. Yet, no nation is immune, and all nations can work together to restore land and boost resilience to drought,” Mr Thiaw added. For more information, contact: UNCCD Press Office, Tel.: +49-228-815-2820 or E-mail: press@unccd.int 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.

UNCCD Executive Secretary welcomes Simon Stiell’s appointment to lead UN Climate Change Convention
Statement by Ibrahim Thiaw on his designation as UNFCCC Acting Executive Secretary

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has designated me to be the Acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), effective 17 July 2022, and until a new Executive Secretary is appointed. I am confident that with the support of UNFCCC management and staff, the continuity will be uninterrupted during this transitional period to deliver on the ambitious agenda ahead of UNFCCC COP27. I also remain committed to ensuring that there will be no disruption in the dispensing of my functions as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and, particularly, the delivery of the mandate the UNCCD Parties have entrusted me with at COP15.  I look forward to working with the Secretary-General and UNFCCC Parties to facilitate a smooth transition to the next UNFCCC leadership and extend my thanks to the UNCCD COP15 President, the Bureau and staff for the willingness to share my time with our sister Convention.

Statement by Ibrahim Thiaw on his designation as UNFCCC Acting Executive Secretary
Desertification and Drought Day 2022: Opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Desertification and Drought Day  Madrid, Friday 17 June | 11:00   Opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary, UNCCD  Your Excellency Pedro Sanchéz, Prime Minister of Spain;  Your Excellency, Teresa Ribera, Deputy PM and Minister of Ecological Transition  Mr. Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries  H.E. Mr Alain-Richard Donwahi, President of UNCCD-COP15  Excellencies Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps  Representatives of Civil Society Organisations,   Members of the press,   Distinguished guests,   Ladies and gentlemen,  I am delighted to welcome you to this event marking the global celebrations of the 2022 “Desertification and Drought Day.”   A day officially declared by the UN General Assembly in 1997.  A day that seeks to share innovative solutions to ensure lives and livelihoods are no longer lost to drought.    A day when each of us can participate in actions that increase our collective resilience because every action counts. There is no small action. There is only INACTION.  A day to celebrate the progress we are making and to inspire each other to act now to build the resilience of present and future generations.   We all know it:  an ever growing number of countries and people are being affected by drought globally.  Let me illustrate what I mean.  Half of the world’s population is expected to face severe water scarcity in the next 8 years.  Consequently, as many as 700 million people (about 10% of the world’s population) are at risk of being displaced during that period1  Drought is set to increase in severity and frequency. Think about this: the consequences of droughts could affect up to three-quarters of humanity by 2050. There is nowhere on earth to hide!  If we are unable -or unwilling- to avert the severe alterations we are inflicting on the Planet, let’s be prepared to confront the new reality.   Drought is a natural hazard, but we can avert the humanitarian disasters that are un-folding in our very eyes, in some parts of the world.   As we speak, the situation is dire: at least 26 million people are struggling for food in Eastern Africa following four consecutive poor rainfall seasons2.  Make no mistake: no country - poor or rich - is immune to drought. Spain, our host for this year’s observance day, painfully knows this. From the United States to Australia, from Mali to Mexico, from Madagascar to Canada.   Drought has multiple nick-names: forest fires; food and energy shortage; forced migration; civil unrest; water rationing, to name but a few.   We need to further build our resilience to droughts. With Climate change, they are likely to appear more frequently, and when they do, to hit harder.   In this sense, commitments made by countries to restore one billion hectares of degraded land are a step in the right direction.   Indeed, we need to protect and manage the land. Without healthy and productive land, livelihoods and jobs will become increasingly precarious. Younger people will be left with fewer prospects.   At the last UNCCD Conference in Abidjan, the 197 Parties decided to act on drought together. Another step in the right direction.   They agreed to establish a new intergovernmental working group on drought which is responsible for identifying concrete policy options.   There is high hope that at the next Conference of the Parties due for 2024 in Saudi Arabia, Parties would agree on meaningful policy actions to mitigate the growing impacts of drought.   Just a couple of weeks ago, the US government announced its plan to elevate drought and water security to a strategic international policy level.   This is inspiring.   Prime Minister Sanchez,   I want to thank you and the government of Spain for your great hospitality.   In particular, I want to thank you for helping us remember that yes, droughts and their effects can be devastating, but they do not have to turn into human disasters.   Preparing in advance is far cheaper than reacting and responding to impacts after droughts hit.   We should therefore set up effective early warning systems and mobilize sustainable finance to improve drought resilience.  The good news is we know what needs to be done to drought-proof our future.   But the time to act is now.   As the rallying call for this day is “Rising up from drought together,” let me conclude with an African proverb:   “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”   So, together, let’s go faster and further.   Thank you very much.    

Desertification and Drought Day 2022: Opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
UNCCD COP15 closing remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Excellence M. le Premier Ministre, Excellences, Distingués délégués, Chers collègues, Mesdames et Messieurs, Dans mon discours d’ouverture le 9 Mai, je disais que « la Côte d’Ivoire dispose de ce magnétisme extraordinaire, cette hospitalité exceptionnelle qui explique pourquoi ce pays attire autant de talents et de touristes ». Aujourd’hui, après plusieurs jours passés ici avec des milliers de délégués venus des quatre coins du monde, je suis en mesure de rapporter certains propos répétés des centaines de fois par des anonymes louant la générosité et l’accueil du peuple ivoirien. En tant que Secrétaire exécutif, je ne peux qu’exprimer mon entière satisfaction pour la tenue réussie de cette COP. Je suis fier de ce que je vois, de ce que j’entends, de ce que j’entrevois pour l’avenir de ce pays. Il va sans dire que le chemin a été parsemé d’embûches. Que d’obstacles franchis, que d’efforts déployés pour mettre tout le monde dans de bonnes conditions de travail et de sécurité. Y compris de sécurité sanitaire en pleine pandémie de COVID. Que de patience pour satisfaire aux multiples demandes du Secrétariat de UNCCD, aux exigences de nos partenaires et aux sollicitations de nos Parties. Que de patience pour écouter, comprendre, répondre et satisfaire à des exigences parfois contradictoires. Que n’a-t-il pas fallu faire pour tenir une COP de près de 7000 participants à Abidjan? Construire les salles temporaires, les viabiliser. Amadouer les équipements, dompter les infrastructures temporaires pour qu’elles ne cèdent pas sous la menace des orages tropicaux en pleine saison des pluies! Que dire des vendeuses de Treichville, de Marcory ou de Cocody, si gentilles et si accueillantes ? Qui leur a demandé de se paver de si belles couleurs dont l’Afrique est si fière ? Dear delegates, observers and staff, We made it! to the end of these two weeks and very intense journey – for many of you, a journey that started well before the 9th of May. I would like to thank President Ouattara for holding the High-level Summit, which brought a dozen Heads of State and Government to attend our COP. This was incredible. It shows the growing awareness and the dedication that Heads of State are giving to restoring degraded land. I would also like to thank the people of Abidjan for their incredible hospitality. For the smiles that we were met with each and every day. For the amazing music and beats that marked our tempo. For receiving us and making us feel at home. Since I have the floor, I would like to thank all those that made this COP possible: All colleagues from UN agencies: from UN security to UN conference services, the interpreters, technicians. My sincere appreciation to cleaners, food providers, and to our volunteers who spent this hectic time offering their services and knowledge.   A special thank you goes of course to the National Organizing Committee and its 11 national working groups. And to our COP15 President, Mr. Alain Richard Donwahi, for the incredible leadership, which you have already demonstrated. Perhaps the most amazing of all, is the dedication, patience and professionalism of the UNCCD Staff. We actually have less than 70 staff of UNCCD worldwide, for the Secretariat and the Global Mechanism combined. Inclusive of all sources of funding. They are the engine behind this COP.  Danke! Excellency Prime Minister, Dear Delegates, At this COP: You ran a Summit of Heads of States and Government Had a High-Level Gender Caucus 5 Ministerial meetings (Dialogues and round tables) You received, at least six weeks before the COP, all documents prepared by your Secretariat; 38 decisions are being submitted to this Plenary for its consideration; 127 side events brought together thousands of participants to share knowledge; Landmark reports were produced, including the Global Land Outlook, the Gender Report, a report on Drought, to name but a few; The Abidjan Legacy Programme which we were honored to contribute to its inception and look forward to continue supporting; In terms of media coverage, our monitoring system picked up over 4,000 articles from 80 countries in over 40 languages; An unprecedented number of interactions happened on social media. A staggering number of close to 170 million people were reached. I am informed that our issues were trending on the global tweetosphere for several hours during the High Level segment. This would not have been possible without your support, the generous financial support of our Parties, donors and supporters. I am aware of the challenges many of you faced. Although we tried to anticipate and address as many issues as possible, we were still confronted with some hiccups along the road. I can assure you that your Secretariat is determined to continue to drawing lessons learned from these experiences and build on them to improve all of our experiences for the upcoming COPs. So, COP 15 has been a great achievement, but it’s also a grave reminder that “much effort, much prosperity” must remain our mantra. Thank you!

UNCCD COP15 closing remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
UNCCD CRIC20 opening speech by Ibrahim Thiaw

Chairman, Distinguished delegates, Distinguished representatives from the civil society and international organisations, I welcome you all to this important session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention. Leaning on an idea that the Secretary-General expressed in his recent speech to the General Assembly, I would like to remind everybody who has taken the time and made the effort to join us here in this beautiful country of Côte d’Ivoire, that: we come together at COP or any its subsidiary bodies on behalf of the people of this planet. Citing the charter of the United Nations, the Secretary-General reminded us that all our efforts, our activities and aspirations should be geared towards improving peoples’ lives, enhancing their opportunities for financial growth, but also improving their socio-economic situations at home. The road to this meeting has been long and sometimes bumpy, but together you have laid a solid foundation for our work. The 19th intersessional session of the CRIC, convened in March 2021, had to take place virtually due to the pandemic. Despite the challenges of meeting and exchanging ideas and knowledge online, you, the Parties, expressed appreciation for the fact that CRIC 19 enabled you to come together and prepare substantively for COP. I would like, again, to thank Mr. Andrew Bishop, CRIC Chair for his leadership and the excellent job done at CRIC 19. I would also like to thank the rapporteur of the CRIC, Mr. Hussein Nasrallah, for the excellent job in summarizing the debates which fed into the final report of CRIC 19, and which will be discussed during this session. Mr. Chair, distinguished delegates, Please allow me to briefly highlight the substantive agenda items before us today and in the coming days. We have a lot to cover to provide targeted recommendations to the COP. During this session, you will have the opportunity a to review information on the SDG process and how it links to the implementation of our Convention. We must be proud of that and be proud to have succeeded in directly linking our work with that of the SDG process through the land degradation neutrality target setting programme and national reporting. As of today, a total of 129 countries have committed to set land degradation neutrality targets, 106 of which have successfully completed this voluntary process. In 2019, an analysis of national reports submitted to the UNCCD conservatively estimated that on average 20% of the global land area is degraded to some extent; this is an area nearly the size of Africa. The Global Land Outlook, our flagship report which was launched just a couple of weeks ago, has confirmed that of the 70% of all land on Earth altered by humanity, 20 to 40% of it is degraded. This is daunting. It is thanks to your contribution that SDG indicator 15.3.1 “the proportion of land that is degraded over total land area” was upgraded to the tier 1 level in November 2019.  This means that there is confidence in the credibility of the data you provided for this indicator. This is a tremendous success! Without your input, your data or the submission of your reports, this would have not been possible.  I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for this and encourage you to contribute to the continuous success of this process by submitting updated information on this indicator throughout the 2022 reporting process. Moving forward in the agenda, you will be able to share experiences and knowledge about capacity building through a panel discussion which will help you identify how to best implement UNCCD’s mandate. During this session, you will also have an opportunity to continue discussing financial issues and review information provided by both the Global Environment Facility and the Global Mechanism on funding opportunities available to Parties for an effective implementation of the Convention. At the beginning of April, 29 countries agreed to pledge the record support of US 5.25 billion dollars for the GEF-8 replenishment period, a nearly 30 percent increase in funding compared to the previous period. The increase in GEF resources comes at a critical moment as many countries around the world are facing multiple challenges – from drought to conflicts, to the ongoing pandemic, all of which could turn policy attention away from sustainable development and land restoration as a vehicle to deliver multiple benefits.  With the 2022 reporting process currently ongoing, the issue of national reporting is also high on the agenda of this session. By combining cutting-edge geospatial information, technology and services, our new reporting platform, PRAIS 4, sets the foundations for future innovation in reporting and, more broadly, for a UNCCD data driven transformation in line with the Secretary-General’s Data Strategy. The use of Earth Observation data and tools in support of decision-making and monitoring at the national and global level will not only allow the Convention to continue contributing to the SDG reporting and review process, but it will also aid prioritization of interventions, increase visibility and transparency of progress in the implementation of the Convention, and enhance our credibility at the international level. Last but not least, you will jump start the discussion on the multi-year work plan for the next 4 years which will be taken up by the budget contact group later in this COP Indeed important agenda items that will lead us to take decisions that should prioritize people and ecosystems. The CRIC is central to this important process and I do hope you will be able to seize this opportunity in this beautiful city of Abidjan to do exactly that. Personally, it fills me with pride to see this plenary full of people willing to discuss these important issues, to reach  a common approach of how we want to create a better place for people to live and in a sustainable and productive manner. I look forward to your lively debates and fruitful exchanges. Thank you

UNCCD CRIC20 opening speech by Ibrahim Thiaw
Rio Conventions Pavilion Drought Day: Speech by Ibrahim Thiaw

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Colleagues and friends. Welcome to Drought Day – an important moment to discuss how to increase action on drought prevention and resilience. An important moment to showcase effective policies and projects from across the globe. An important moment to send a message to Parties that we need a strong decision on drought at this UNCCD COP. I have vivid memories of the devastation that a drought caused in my hometown in Mauritania in the 1970s. First, our water supply drained. Then our crops failed. Finally, our livestock perished. The risk of famine loomed over our village for months. These memories still haunt me. But for hundreds of millions of people today, these are not memories. They are a brutal reality, and a consequence of the climate and environmental crises. The land is drying up. Fertile grounds are turning to dust. Drought prevails. Friends, If we stay on our current course, more of us will live with extreme water shortages – including an estimated one in four children by 2040. We must act decisively to prevent this future. We must deal with drought, using every tool at our disposal. We know what these tools are. Land restoration is one. A simple and easily accessible one. It removes carbon from the atmosphere, slowing the climate change that drives droughts. It helps vulnerable communities adapt. It increases agricultural production. Land restoration commitments covering almost one billion hectares are in place for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. We must deliver on these commitments. But restoration is not enough. We need to protect and manage the land. We need sustainable and efficient management techniques that grow more food with less land and water. We need to change our relationships with food, fodder and fibre – by diversifying our diets and reducing waste, among other measures. We also need coordination, communication and cooperation to deal with the complex causes and impacts of drought. With proactive national drought policies and a joined-up approach to managing natural resources, we can mitigate the effects of drought. We should set up effective early warning systems that work across boundaries. New technologies – such as satellite monitoring and artificial intelligence – offer guidance for early warning and precision for informed decisions. We should also mobilize sustainable finance to improve resilience at the local level. Because investing in soil health makes business sense.  According to recent economic analyses, every dollar invested in land restoration can generate up to 30 dollars in ecosystem services. Friends, We are moving forward. 128 countries have expressed political will to achieve or exceed Land Degradation Neutrality. 66 countries have taken part in the recently completed UNCCD’s Drought initiative to shift to a proactive and risk-based approach to drought. But we need to do more. And we will only succeed if we work together. We must commit to pursuing concerted policy and partnerships at all levels. We need to mobilize farmers, local communities, small and medium sized enterprises, consumers, green investors, green entrepreneurs and young people. Today, and at this COP, we have a real chance to drive increased action. So, I ask you to build on the growing momentum. To come out of this COP with a robust and actionable decision on drought. Such a decision – implemented with ingenuity, commitment and solidarity – would take us a long way. It would motivate action towards sustainable practices in land and water management. It would build our resilience to drought and slow climate change. It would allow current and future generations to thrive, instead of just survive. And that, dear friends, is why we are here today. Thank you.

Rio Conventions Pavilion Drought Day: Speech by Ibrahim Thiaw