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Restoring life to land: Sustainable land management for ecosystem restoration 

As the UNCCD COP 15 draws near and The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (UNDER) gathers momentum, UNCCD and WOCAT are partnering up on a video series that highlight the central role of sustainable land management (SLM) in restoring and maintaining the health of ecosystems.  SLM has a central role in each of the eight UNDER ecosystems – farmlands, grasslands, forests, mountains, freshwaters, urban areas, peatlands, oceans and coasts – by combating land degradation, improving production and securing livelihoods while simultaneously generating multiple environmental co-benefits.  While people have directly contributed to ecosystem degradation, they can also be the primary agents of change toward a sustainable land management restoration when armed with knowledge to adopt and upscale SLM.  The new video series presents successful practices for each ecosystem, demonstrating how SLM can deliver powerful solutions to ecosystem degradation.  

Restoring life to land: Sustainable land management for ecosystem restoration 
The weather alone cannot explain droughts and floods

Communities all over the world have suffered some of the most brutal effects of drought and flooding this year. Flash floods in western Europe, eastern and central Asia and southern African. And catastrophic drought in Australia, southern Africa, southern Asia, much of Latin America, western North America and Siberia are cases in point. The impacts extend well beyond the individual events. For example, the rise in food insecurity in the southern African region and unprecedented wildfires in North America, Europe and Central Asia.   What is going on? This is much more than bad weather in some cases, and is increasingly so. The UNCCD organized an event at COP26, the Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow, United Kingdom, to focus attention on the land-water-climate nexus. The science and policy responses discussed make it clear that human decisions exacerbated by climate change are significantly – and arguably, catastrophically – amplifying the impact of drought and floods.  The discussion encouraged more strategic land use decisions. Decisions that ensure what we do where, and in particular, what we plant where, mitigatesthe impacts of both extremes, be it too much or too little rainfall. It also shed light on how important it is to have healthy soils. Soils that are replete with organic matter will obtain “more crop per drop”, and reduce the risks associated with drought and flooding.  Extreme events, including both droughts and floods are on the rise. With more land projected to be get drier and more and more people living in drylandsin the future, the discussions centered on the shift more than 60 countries are making from “reactive” response to droughts and floods to “proactive” planning and risk management designed to build resilience. Participants from Malawi, Pakistan, Honduras, Grenada and Burkina Faso provided concrete examples of policy alignment and cross-sectorial approaches to implementation. Here is a quick overview of the highlights. Read more:  Land and drought

The weather alone cannot explain droughts and floods
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands turns 50

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Ramsar Convention, the intergovernmental treaty which unites 171 countries to protect and use wisely the wetlands and the resources they provide. The Ramsar Convention is the oldest of the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements. In the fifty years since it was founded, a lot more became known about the importance of wetlands for water security, disaster risk reduction, mitigating climate change, supporting biodiversity and providing livelihoods.  Across the world, wetlands are of great importance to humanity. All agricultural production depends on water which is transported and provided to humankind through wetlands. More than half of the world relies on wetland-grown produce for their staple diet, for example from rice paddies. Wetlands also provide more than a billion livelihoods across the world in an array of activities that also deliver food, water supplies, transport, and leisure. Wetlands loss contributes to poverty and food insecurity. During the months of August and September 2021, the anniversary website is featuring stories and messages on why wetlands are important and what can be done to ensure they are better protected and used. On October 7, the Ramsar secretariat will host an intergenerational dialogue between leaders past and future to create connections across generations to elevate the urgency to protect, conserve and restore wetlands. This anniversary-themed video presents the many benefits of wetlands and gives the overview of the convention's work.  

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands turns 50
COP14 Bureau opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Madam President, Dear Bureau members, It is, as ever, a pleasure to speak to you and work with you, regardless of the distance the pandemic has forced upon us. I hope that everyone is holding up during what has been a long and wearying period for us all. I commend your continued commitment to our Convention. Your dedication remains essential, as UNCCD is growing ever more and as land is part of the solution in these times of great turmoil. If we fulfill our mandate to protect, manage, and restore the land, the benefits will be immense towards building a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world. We will accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis. Reduce the risk of future pandemics. Slow climate change and protect biodiversity. Free millions of people from poverty and hunger. Help to create a world of peace, prosperity, and equity. Madam President, More than ever before, we need solidarity, hope but also tough political choices and innovative policy action to see this crisis through together.  Allow me to give a brief update of our activities so far before addressing today’s agenda. Regarding the Secretariat and Global Mechanism, I am pleased to report that our staff and families are doing well overall. In unison with the rest of the UN in Bonn, I have continued to take all precautionary measures that are intended to protect the safety, health, and well-being of UNCCD staff with regard to COVID19. This has been a top priority for me and the management team. I have been inspired by how our work has continued uninterrupted, enabling the Convention to continue to play an active global role. I am thankful to my staff for their enduring dedication. Our work in 2020 and 2021 is not, in any form, on hold.  We now have a strong Management Team which I am very proud of, with more women into leadership positions. I am proud that we achieved gender parity in just one year, with 54% women as senior leaders. Overall, women now represent 57% of the UNCCD labor force. Together with the management team, we have created a consensus around simplification, decentralization, and flexibility to be more nimble, efficient, and effective by adopting for the first time in the Secretariat’s history a Delegation of Authority policy. At global level, never has the need for land restoration been more crucial. In the midst of the pandemic, a window of hope and opportunity has opened for our Parties: a chance to recover better. The UNCCD Secretariat has focused its attention on key strategic partnerships. At our last Bureau meeting, I informed you about the G20 Global Initiative on Land. We are in advanced discussions with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the funding agreement and we will soon set up the Initiative Coordination Office. Italy which holds the G20 Presidency this year, is also very much interested in Sustainable Land Management. I would like to use this opportunity to thank G20 countries who are also members of the Bureau for their instrumental support. On January 11, at the One Planet Summit organized in Paris, the Africa’s Great Green Wall received a major boost from donors and partners. For the first time ever, there was a clear recognition that land restoration can have multiple positive impacts. To the ecology, to society, to the economy. Close to USD 17 billion have now been pledged. The UNCCD has been requested to provide technical support to provide enabling conditions for an accelerated implementation on the ground. Madam President, Covid-19 has not postponed the need for Parties to accelerate work towards fulfilling commitments they have already made. We understand the Indian Government is completing the process for the implementation of Prime Minister Modi’s vision shared at COP14 in New Delhi, to restore 26M ha of land by 2030. Furthermore, you may have noted the recent announcement by Prince Mohamed Ben Salman of Saudi Arabia about a national and a regional initiative to restore 240 M ha of degraded land across the Kingdom and the Middle East region. We are in contact with Saudi Arabia to better understand their plans and provide as much support as we can. The implementation of the Land Degradation Neutrality is ongoing in 104 out of the 127 countries that submitted their national commitments.  The Global Mechanism is developing a new business model to cope with the growing and complex demands from Parties. Madam President, Land restoration is clearly gaining momentum. Itis low-tech and a cheap solution to climate from the perspective of carbon sequestration. We will need to continue to make the case, and convince major players, notably from the private sector for a more sustainable production. Of particular importance are the producers of food, feed, and fiber. We also need to see major improvements on the consumption side. One imminent opportunity we have is the High-Level Dialogue at the UN General Assembly on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought which is scheduled to take place on 20 May. The President of the UN General Assembly is fully committed to working with all Members States, at the highest level, in order to make this event a success, with a lasting legacy. We need your full support to make this Dialogue a successful one. On 17 June, the world will celebrate the Desertification and Drought Day, with Costa Rica as the global host. The theme focuses on the contribution of Land Restoration to the Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery. I am very pleased with the positive response we have received so far both from the public and the private sectors. At our next Bureau meeting, I intend to inform you about great progress being made in improving the reporting tools, including through the establishment of a geo-spatial platform. There are also important development shaping up in other sectors, such as the Science Policy Interface as well as Capacity Building and Innovation. Our staff have been very busy and creative, despite the lockdown. But in the interest of time, I will have to come back to these on another occasion. Madame President, Covid-19 has revealed the world’s vulnerabilities, many of which intersect with the land crisis. At the same time, it has highlighted the importance of expertise and science, cooperation, information and solidarity. And it has also, in many cases, demonstrated that land is part of the solution and can help steer the recovery towards a safer, more sustainable, and inclusive path. We stand ready to continue supporting Parties, now and beyond COVID-19. This brings me to today’s agenda. We will discuss the date and place of COP15, a key decision for the Convention. You will also hear a report by the Chair of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC). I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome Mr. Andrew Bishop. Mr. Bishop is not new to the UNCCD process as he served as Guyana’s national focal point in the past. Finally, you will hear a report by the Chair of the Committee on Science and Technology (CST). Madame President, Parties had requested us to organize COP15 in Bonn, or another venue, in autumn of this year. Considering the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP15 in 2021 may no longer possible. The pandemic has disrupted our plans. You have in front of view, under agenda item II, a note on the status of preparations for COP15 to inform your decision on the best course of action for a successful COP, moving forward. The note includes options for rescheduling COP15. Rescheduling will ensure all Parties can focus on the issues to be discussed at this key conference and allow more time for the necessary preparations to take place, taking into account safety and security. We will continue to work with all of you and hope to be able to get your views and guidance on: The postponement of COP15 to 2022 The organization of an online process for Parties to decide on an interim budget for 2022 Your decision today will help us engage further our host country with regard the rescheduling of COP15 in 2022. This, of course, does not exclude the possibility of a third party expressing interest to preside or host COP15, regardless of your decision on the date of the COP. We know that many countries are already in the process of developing their Post-Pandemic recovery plans. It would be strategic for our Conference of the Parties to be held on time, to actively contribute to policy making and guide pro-land investments and policies. The Second Edition of the Global Land Outlook is designed to serve as a good reference in that respect. On CRIC19, while I will leave the details to our able Chair, let me just say how pleased I was with the outcomes. The meeting confirmed that the work we do under this Convention is essential to protecting, managing, and restoring healthy land. And that we can only fulfill the land’s full potential if we do it together. Thanks again to all of you, a total of 138 Parties, 9 UN agencies, 15 Intergovernmental Organizations, and 63 civil society organizations took part in the debates, over a course of five days. Regarding the report by the CST Chair, there are a lot of important activities and updates that the Chair will be presenting. It is always heartening to see collaboration, both internal and external. And this struck me as a key positive note of the report. As I said earlier, we must all seek to reach beyond the confines of our Convention to engage every ministry, business, investor, UN agency and process that impacts on the land. So, the CST coordination with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is most welcome and much appreciated. Madame President, The Secretariat is very much looking forward to a successful and productive meeting. Thank you.

COP14 Bureau opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
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
Recurring droughts are clear and present dangers

Is climate change the force behind the mass migrations into Europe? Is the rising radicalization and extremist behavior emerging in places like Pakistan and the Sahel region in sub-Saharan Africa linked to drought or climate change in any way? These are legitimate questions. And, although we lack sufficient evidence now that is supported by robust data to make very firm claims, history offers some lessons, which suggest that we should prepare for the worst now, and hope that the future reality will prove us wrong

Recurring droughts are clear and present dangers