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Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw at the virtual meeting preparatory to the 8th session of the council of ministers

Honorable Ministers, colleagues, and friends. Firstly.  Thank you.  It is a great pleasure being here – even if virtually. The Sahel is seen as the crucible of existential challenges. Irregular migration, armed conflicts, non-state actors, terrorism and organized crime, as well as poverty and food insecurity. Yet amazing things can happen if we have the commitment and passion of political leaders. With faith and investment in the ingenuity of the people.  And with a bold and joint international response and actions. The Great Green Wall is such an example! True, in the back of our minds, we have always thought of the Great Green Wall as an impossible dream.    But that is no longer the case.  And we must adjust our mindsets. Slowly but surely, the Great Green Wall Initiative is regreening the Sahel; restoring degraded lands and providing decent livelihoods for its people; snaking the Sahel all the way from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East; restoring degraded lands and providing jobs and opportunities for millions of people in Africa. In January 2021, US$ 19 billion has been pledged at the One Planet Summit. This is a huge commitment from the international community. The partners committed themselves to work at an accelerated pace. We have collectively agreed to a harmonized results framework. National coalitions are being set up. There is a real sense of buzz about the Great Green Wall.  In Africa and around the world. And that is critical.  In a world that looks at the Sahel region and sees only despair, the Great Green Wall offers hope. In a world struggling to work out what “building back better”, or climate resilience or sustainable development or nature-based solution really looks like, the Great Green Wall makes tangible and practical sense. The concept of the GGW works because it addresses the loss of natural resources - as the root cause of a myriad of other challenges. But it also works because it is rewriting the narrative of the Sahel - restoring lost livelihoods and generating jobs and income for the people.  There is bold African leadership. There is a plan to harness the potential of the region and its people.  And the international community has rallied and is getting coordinated. The 11 GGW countries have a huge role to play, to make it happen. The good news is, it can be done. It must be done. It will be done. And today we are here to discuss how we will get it done – faster and most effectively. Pipelines of bankable projects are emerging, though I have to admit, projects are only slowly emerging. As your loyal and unwavering partner, the UNCCD is committed to help sweep away the many bottlenecks to action at the national level. More than a year has passed since the pledges were made. However, implementation remains scanty. There are multiple administrative hurdles that are slowing us down; bureaucratic issues are preventing people of the Sahel from having access to resources they badly need. These challenges must be overcome quickly, if we want to turn the tide on the vicious circle observed in the Sahel.  For long, we have been advising to bring together honorable environment with treasury and planning Ministers to unlock some of the challenges that have been observed. Indeed, we hope that countries will use an “all of government” approach to getting it done – faster and with more direct benefits to the people of the Region. Allow me to insist on the role of Ministers of Finance, Economy or Planning. The pledges made last year will be delivered with the full participation of fund authorization officers at the national level. Through an integrated approach where different sectoral departments will be brought together: from agriculture to the environment; from energy to livestock; from local authorities to civil society and research. The GGW belongs to all: youth; women; farmers and pastoralists. In short, the GGW will be achieved with the people of the Sahel. Or will never be. Thank you all for being here. Together, I am sure we can make it happen. Thank you.

Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw at the virtual meeting preparatory to the 8th session of the council of ministers
Remarks by UNCCD ES Ibrahim Thiaw at 61st GEF Council

Agenda item on Relations with Conventions and other International Institutions (Agenda item.10) Co-Chairs, Council members, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am grateful for this opportunity to brief the Council again. The Council meets at a time when the world is grappling with the increasing challenges in the path to sustainable development. You are meeting this time round when land restoration is becoming more relevant by the day. I see the beginning of a large-scale land restoration movement across the world. When World Leaders speak of trillion trees to be planted, we should translate these into hectares of land being restored. Restoring degraded lands, as you know, generates revenues for poor populations. Land restoration also brings more food to the hungry and to the markets. It’s restoring ecosystems and biodiversity. When they say planting trees, we should hear enhancing resilience to the climate crisis while sequestering large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere and bringing carbon back to where it belongs, to the soil. Just last month at the UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow, more than 140 countries agreed on a common declaration, namely the Glasgow Leader’s Declaration on Forests and Land Use. Leaders committed to working together to reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. We now need to move rapidly from Summit Declarations to real implementation on the ground. Another positive outcome of Glasgow was the Bezos Earth pledge of $1 billion dollars for landscape restoration in Africa, especially for  the implementation of the Great Green Wall. The pledges to the Great Green Wall are now totaling more than 19 billion dollars. This Africa-led land restoration initiative, which you are familiar with, would not be possible without the incubation of the GEF. The Great Green Wall is one the concrete examples of a program, which, from its early stages, benefited from the support of the GEF. When only few believed on the Great Green Wall, the GEF saw the potential of a glass half full. Today, banks and other financial institutions are investing on the Great Green Wall. This is a concrete demonstration that investing in nature can be a profitable business, even in the Sahel, one of the harshest conditions on Earth. UNCCD is working closely with all partners and the 11 countries of  the GGW to develop mechanisms that allow better access to the existing funds to help address land restoration, drought, renewable energies, youth and women’s employment across the Sahel region. I would like to express our gratitude once again to you, as members of the Council, and to the GEF Secretariat, for your trust and support. Today, we are happy to see similar initiatives being developed in other parts of the world. Again, a concrete case of what a successful demonstration programme can do, namely, to serve as an example and to emulate. In that respect, the Middle East Green Initiative announced in March 2021 was launched in Riyadh last month. It aims, among others, to restore 200 million hectares across the Greater Middle East. In parallel, Saudi Arabia launched its own national green initiative, which aims at restoring 40 million hectares of degraded land. Similar initiatives are already in place in India, Pakistan, China. We are pleased to see other countries developing similar plans, including Mongolia, the countries of the dry corridor of Latin America, as well the countries of Southern Africa, under the SADC umbrella. In addition, just two weeks ago, I signed in Riyadh an agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to set up the Secretariat of the "G20 Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats”, that is the initiative launched by the G20 leaders under the Saudi G20 Presidency in November 2020. Under this initiative, the G20 leaders aim to prevent, halt and reverse land degradation across the world through private sector engagement, civil society empowerment, knowledge sharing and development.  The ambition here is to achieve a 50% reduction in degraded land by 2040. This will support other existing initiatives, adding momentum to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Council members, We, at UNCCD, are now focusing on our upcoming COP15, which will be held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire – the 2nd and 3rd weeks of May of 2022. Two topics are likely to be discussed by Parties amongst others: Firstly: Parties will review the report of the Intergovernmental working Group on drought, which was set up by the previous COP in New Delhi. Unfortunately, droughts are hitting every year more countries, more communities, more economies, and more ecosystems. As we speak, millions of people are deprived from food and basic needs in Eastern Africa and in Madagascar. It is really heartbreaking to see people starving, large mammals drying literally in the deserts; and millions of hectares of forests burning all over the world. Secondly: Large scale land restoration is likely to come up as a big topic at the next COP, the world seems to be finally waking up to the importance of nature-based solutions. This movement is now unstoppable. The smartest private investors have gotten the message. It is a critical moment for the GEF as we have on sight the early results of our 30 years of investment in nature. Thirty years of demonstration, research, and science. The moment has now come to move to large scale. In my recent trip to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Government authorities expressed their interest in developing what they call a « legacy programme ». As proud hosts to UNCCD COP15 and a country whose economy is largely dependent on agriculture, they want to invest on their best asset, namely: LAND. Hence, boosting long term environmental sustainability across major value chains.  Investing in large-scale sustainable management of land and soils in Côte d’Ivoire is investing in the country’s best asset: its natural capital. This will help protect and restore forests and lands and improving communities’ resilience to climate change. It’s an opportunity for UNCCD, GEF and other partners to work together to support this programme, which will help restore land and ensure sustainable development. That is the large-scale land management we are inviting GEF partners to consider, when moving ahead with the eighth replenishment of the facility. Keeping in view the emerging challenges that today’s world is facing, we hope that the replenishment of GEF-8 will find innovative, and creative ways to address these challenges. UNCCD will continue working with its Parties to set and update their voluntary land degradation neutrality targets and to develop projects to meet these targets. Most parties have developed national drought plans with UNCCD’s assistance; they are looking for support to implement these plans. Drought is an increasing threat due to the unpredictable changes in the world’s environment and there is a dire need of financing to enhance resilience and implement measures to combat effects of drought. So, allow me to close reminding us of the two issues that come high in the world’s attention: Drought management and mitigating the impacts of drought. Second, sustainable land management, large-scale land restoration. These, ladies and gentlemen, are important issues that also concern climate change, biodiversity, food, and human wellbeing. They are at the heart of what GEF is all about, and what GEF-8 should be focusing on. I thank you.

Remarks by UNCCD ES Ibrahim Thiaw at 61st GEF Council
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