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10th Nevsky International Ecological Congress: Message from Ibrahim Thiaw

Excellencies, dear Friends,   It is a pleasure for me to address you today from the headquarters of the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.  Let me begin by expressing my recognition to the Russian Federation for hosting this event. The Nevsky Congress is a clear testimony of the paramount importance of the environmental agenda.   No corner of the globe is immune from the devastating consequences of climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and drought.   Sea levels are rising, oceans are acidifying, the Arctic is melting, forests are burning, weather extremes are intensifying.   Droughts hit everywhere and with more intensity.   Rising temperatures are fuelling environmental degradation and economic deterioration.  Therefore, the theme of today´s meeting “Ecology: a right, not a privilege” couldn’t be more relevant.   We cannot afford to take today´ situation for granted.   Resolute and concerted actions are needed for the sake of present and future generations;   for their right to a decent life and environment.   However, all rights go hand in hand with responsibilities.   And our collective responsibility is to think about our Planet and to take care of the land which belongs to us all.  Without urgent action on how we use and steward our land, we cannot aspire to sustainable development for all.   Land generates the food we eat. Land produces the fibre necessary to our clothing. The water we drink is coming from terrestrial ecosystems.   The quality of the air we breathe also partly depends on the health of our land.   Therefore, I would like to call upon all the participants here today to think about land restoration as a powerful and cost-effective sustainable development tool.   Investing in large-scale land restoration to build resilience to drought, combat soil erosion, and loss of agricultural production is a win-win solution for everybody:   for the environment, for the climate, for the economy, and for the livelihoods of local communities.   Sustainable agriculture and nature-based solutions are a smart way to increase food production, stabilize climate, create employment, and wealth and prosperity.   These challenges are of importance to all.   Ladies and gentlemen,  Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.   2024 is also the year of COP16 of the Convention, which will be hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.   The UN Convention to Combat Desertification is the only legally binding global treaty set up to address land degradation and the effects of drought.   Next year’s Nevsky International Congress may therefore be a good platform to discuss these issues. Sharing and enhancing knowledge on drought resilience, sustainable land management and restoration is key to improving land and livelihoods.   UNCCD stands ready to provide it’s support.   I wish you a successful and fruitful meeting and a productive discussion.  Spasíbo. Thank you very much for your attention!

10th Nevsky International Ecological Congress: Message from Ibrahim Thiaw
Harnessing UNCCD–CBD synergies to safeguard nature and livelihoods 

While land covers less than 30 per cent of the earth’s surface, it is home to 85 per cent of all species. It comprises a variety of terrestrial ecosystems that provide a broad range of essential goods and services, vital to sustaining all life. Biodiversity above and below ground supports the ecological processes that underpin the healthy and beneficial functions of land.   Land use change has been identified as the greatest threat to nature, projected to have the largest global impact on biodiversity by the year 2100.  Leveraging synergies between international commitments to stem biodiversity loss and land degradation is therefore key to address these interconnected crises.  On this year's International Biodiversity Day, the new brief “Land Restoration to Safeguard Nature and Livelihoods: UNCCD and CBD Working Together” spotlights the shared agenda of restoration and resilience, central to both UNCCD and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework for 2030. It identifies where and how synergies can enhance implementation at global and national levels, increasing the impact of limited finance and delivering multiple benefits.  UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said: “We must harness the power of synergy, a power where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergies, like the harmony of a finely tuned orchestra, exist where commitments intersect under binding multilateral agreements and voluntary commitments. Here, at the nexus of land governance, management and restoration, we find a melody that can restore balance.”  The brief stresses that preventing degradation of ecosystems and rehabilitating degraded land are cost-effective responses that can simultaneously safeguard biodiversity and improve rural livelihoods, while reducing the growing environmental risks to our societies, economies, and the natural world.  Recently adopted Global Biodiversity Framework together with Sustainable Development Goals and Land Degradation Neutrality commitments present a roadmap for a harmonious future when we channel these pledges into national plans and align our actions for resilience and sustainability. 

Harnessing UNCCD–CBD synergies to safeguard nature and livelihoods 
International Biodiversity Day 2023: Message by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw

On International Biodiversity Day, we stand at a pivotal moment. We are at a point where we have the power to strengthen life on Earth, or let it decline. The theme "From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity" is challenging us to turn our commitments into tangible actions. The natural world is a magnificent tapestry. A grand masterpiece painted with a palette of countless species, and ecosystems. Nature is the source of our existence. Nature, including Land, provides us with the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medicine that heals. But this complex symphony of life stands on a precipice. Changes in how we use land are predicted to have the most devastating impact on biodiversity by 2100. Consider this: although land covers less than 30 per cent of the Earth's surface, it is home to a staggering 85 per cent of all species. These lands support a rich variety of ecosystems that provide essential goods and services that sustain life on our planet. Yet the threads of this tapestry are fraying. If we continue on our current path, the cheerful songs of birds or the buzzing of bees may become sounds of distant past. The peaceful sight of a lush grassland or a healthy wetland may be relegated to a souvenir. These trends are not only leading to the loss of biodiversity, but they are also exacerbating climate change. Today we are called to action. We must harness the power of synergy, a power where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergies, like the harmony of a finely tuned orchestra, exist where commitments intersect under binding multilateral agreements and voluntary commitments. Here, at the nexus of land governance, management, and restoration, we find a melody that can restore balance. The crises of land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are interconnected, and their effects are felt in our societies, ecosystems, and economies. The path to harmony lies in conserving, managing, and restoring our ecosystems and land resources. That’s where we can strike the right notes for the healthier planet. The Rio Conventions alongside the Sustainable Development Goals, form a symphony of resilience and sustainability. Harnessing synergies requires an orchestra in harmony. We need to integrate these agreements into our national plans, harmonizing our actions for a better future. With the adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework in late 2022, we have a roadmap for a harmonious future. In support of this Framework, the UNCCD released a Synergy Brief on this year's Biodiversity Day, 22 May. So far, concerted action has been insufficient to address the interlinked biodiversity loss and land degradation crises, the brief suggests. Preventing the degradation of ecosystems and rehabilitating or restoring degraded land and soil are cost-effective responses that can safeguard biodiversity and improve rural livelihoods, while reducing the growing environmental risks to our societies, economies, and the natural world. So, on this International Biodiversity Day 2023, let us rise to the challenge. Together, we can turn the silence of biodiversity loss into a symphony of life. A symphony that will echo through the ages. Thank you!

International Biodiversity Day 2023: Message by UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw
Statement by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw at the non-statutory meeting of the Great Green Wall

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to this non-statutory meeting of the Great Green Wall. And thank you for joining.  Friends,  The Great Green Wall is arguably one of the most inspiring Land Restoration Program in the world. By its ambition, its size, its institutional set up with a dedicated  Heads of State Summit, Ministerial Conference and Agencies (national and regional). It is politically endorsed by the continental body and is therefore institutionally hooked to the African Union. The political support it has makes it unique and inspiring. Even more inspiring when one thinks that in the Sahara and the Sahel, we have one of the harshest ecological conditions, coupled with a very challenging socio-political and security situation. This makes it even more compelling. A new departure was given in 2021, at the One Planet Summit in Paris, with USD 19 Billion pledged by donors and technical support offered by Partners. This meeting will be an opportunity for us to get some updates as to what has worked; and what has not; what needs to be fixed? Both Governments, Donor Agencies and Partners? It is refreshing to know that much progress has already been made, while we still have a long way to go to achieve our ambitions. We will hear more in a short while from different speakers. It is equally encouraging to see, despite all the constructive criticism, that the Great GreenWall is inspiring action in other parts of Africa, and elsewhere in the world. The Southern Africa region (SADC) is busy preparing a similar program The Middle East Green Initiative (which also covers parts of Africa) has already received its first funding of USD 2.5 B from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia An Eastern Africa corridor may be developed soon Other similar initiatives under the umbrella of the African Union’s NEPAD are also ongoing such as the AFR100, which we salute It seems the movement of large-scale land restoration is unstoppable, as these provide multiple benefits and respond to various Sustainable Development Goals. Before I go any further, let me recognize few leaders that are in the room and give them the floor for their opening remarks and their blessings: To officially open the meeting, please welcome the Nigerian rotating Presidency of the Great GreenWall. We have the honor of welcoming Minister Mohammed H. Abdullahi, Chair of the Council of Ministers of the Great GreenWall. We are also honored to have with us Her Excellency Ms. Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy, and Agriculture of the AU Commission Ms. Inger Andersen J’aimerai maintenant partager avec vous quelques avis et recommandations générales qui découlent de nos observations et de nos interactions avec tous les acteurs au cours de deux dernières années. Ces commentaires n’altèrent en rien l’authenticité et la pertinence du programme de la Grande Muraille Verte, bien au contraire. 1.   Financement : sur les USD 19 milliards annoncés il y a deux ans lors du One Planet Summit à Paris, 80% des fonds sont déjà programmés, répartis en 150 projets dans le pipeline. 4 milliards restent encore à programmer. Nous notons cependant un déphasage entre les attentes des acteurs nationaux de la Grande Muraille Verte et cette première liste de projets. En effet, la majorité de ces projets étaient déjà planifiés avant le One Planet Summit; par ailleurs, certains de ces projets ne sont pas situés dans les zones d’intervention prioritaires de la Grande Muraille Verte. Ce déphasage peut être corrigé s’il y a une meilleure coordination au niveau national par les ministères chargés de l’ordonnancement. C’est à cet effet que nous saluons la présence parmi nous de ministres de l’Economie. Nous saluons aussi la mise en place dans beaucoup de pays, de coalitions nationales, qui sont des structures intersectorielles de coordination. La coordination doit idéalement se faire depuis l’amont, c’est-à-dire la planification, et doit bien entendu se poursuivre au moment de la mise en œuvre. Par ailleurs, plusieurs agences nationales de la Grande Muraille Verte expriment leur volonté d’être mieux impliqués dans la mise en œuvre des projets portant le label de la Grande Muraille Verte afin de jouer leur rôle de coordination et de suivi, afin d’être en mesure de rendre compte à leurs autorités nationales. Il serait intéressant d’avoir des opinions sur ces questions et surtout de clarifier, dans chaque pays, les procédures de planification et d’exécution des projets. Les structures gouvernementales officielles, adéquatement recalibrés, doivent être aux commandes. 2.  Renforcement des institutions : Tout en saluant encore une fois la volonté politique à haut niveau, nous recommandons fortement que les institutions de mise en œuvre et de suivi de la Grande Muraille Verte soient revues et renforcés. Dans la plupart des pays, les structures nationales de la Grande Muraille Verte -tout comme l’Agence régionale- manquent de personnels suffisant en qualification et en nombre, pour pleinement jouer leur rôle de planification, de développement, de suivi-évaluation et de coordination d’un programme d’une telle ampleur et d’une telle complexité. Nous encourageons les gouvernements et l’Agence panafricaine à exécuter la décision, prise en 2021, du Conseil des Ministres de la Grande Muraille Verte. La décision commandite un audit institutionnel de la Grande Muraille Verte, pour adapter les anciennes structures (régionale et nationales) à la nouvelle configuration post-One Planet Summit. Nous encourageons également les partenaires techniques et financiers à accompagner ce processus de renforcement institutionnel, condition essentielle pour la réussite de cet ambitieux programme. 3.  Prochaines étapes : La préparation de la prochaine phase de la Grande Muraille Verte doit démarrer incessamment, pour assurer une continuité après 2025. Le budget total estimé de la Grande Muraille Verte à 2030 était de 33 milliards de dollars. Pour atteindre cet objectif, il serait judicieux de : (i) tirer des leçons de la phase actuelle (ii) procéder à la préparation de la prochaine phase et développer des projets bankables. Un tel exercice nécessite un effort conséquent dans chaque pays, mais aussi au niveau régional. Merci  

Statement by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw at the non-statutory meeting of the Great Green Wall
Unlocking the potential of the urban-rural nexus through land-based actions

The world is rapidly urbanizing – within 30 years, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. 90 per cent of urban growth will occur in less-developed countries across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, further deepening the development gap between rural and urban areas. While cities occupy less than three per cent of the global land area, they consume the bulk of natural resources, while unplanned urban expansion often leads to human displacement and loss of productive land. Even though urban and rural areas depend on each other, rural communities often lag behind – worldwide 85 per cent of the poor still live in rural areas. UNCCD COP15 recognized the importance of rethinking urban-rural relationships when tackling desertification, land degradation and drought as drivers of forced migration and unplanned urbanization. Its decision 22/COP.15 invites Parties to promote sustainable territorial development to strengthen urban-rural linkages through territorial governance systems based on integrated territorial development to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality and address the drivers of forced migration.   Creating a sustainable future within and outside cities calls for integrated spatial planning and inclusive development to ensure an equal and mutually beneficial exchange between urban and rural communities. Sustainable land use planning and restoration offer a cost-effective way to improve well-being of urban and rural communities, create green jobs, build drought resilience and support climate mitigation. This video, which premiered at the CBD COP 15 in Montreal in December 2022, demonstrates how well-planned and inclusive land-based actions can deliver multiple benefits by strengthening the urban-rural nexus.  

Unlocking the potential of the urban-rural nexus through land-based actions
Wet wonderlands: Making a case for wetland restoration 

Gracing every continent of the Earth, wetlands are essential to the planet’s health, often compared to its vital organs, acting as arteries that carry water and as kidneys that filter harmful substances.   Wetlands serve as the watchful sentinels of our wellbeing: they form protective barriers against tsunamis and sponge up the excess rainfall to reduce flood surges. During the dry season in arid climates, wetlands release the stored water which helps delay the onset of drought and reduce water shortages. They also store vast quantities of carbon, helping mitigate climate change. Home to some of the most diverse and fertile ecosystems, wetlands support livelihoods of 1 billion people. 40 percent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.  World Wetlands Day is observed each year on 2 February to increase people’s understanding of the critical importance of wetlands and raise awareness of the urgent need to protect these fragile and threatened natural gems.   “We at UNCCD are proud to join in this celebration and recognize the unique and valuable ecosystem services provided by wetlands. We are committed to doing our part to conserve and protect wetlands, and we are calling on all of you to join us in this vital cause,” said UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw.  To date, nearly 90 percent of the world’s wetlands have been degraded or lost, with 35 percent in the last 50 years alone. That is why on this World Wetlands Day, UNCCD is joining the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and other partners to highlight the examples of countries and communities making strides in wetland restoration.   Indonesia: Creating green wildfire barriers  Drained peatlands pose a high risk of fires that are devastating for people, nature and climate. In 2015, fires in Indonesia emitted more carbon dioxide a day than the entire US economy. More than half of these fires occurred in peatlands, causing an economic loss of US$ 16 billion. Rewetting and restoring peatlands can enhance drought resilience and lower the risk of wildfires. In the Sebangau National Park in Kalimantan, Indonesia — home to one-fifth of the world’s orangutan population — measures to restore the forests and rewet peatlands have helped prevent the spread of wildfires.  Argentina: Rewilding jaguar habitats The Iberá wetlands in Argentina comprise the largest freshwater aquatic ecosystem in South America and are the focus of an ambitious rewilding endeavor across 7,000 square kilometers of northeast Argentina’s Corrientes Province.  A jaguar reintroduction program started in 2015 first bore fruit in 2018 when two new wild jaguar cubs were born in the newly formed Iberá Park, the first in decades. Reintroductions of the red and green macaw started in 2015 with just 15 birds, and by 2020 they had successfully raised wild chicks for the first time in 150 years.352 353 Formerly extinct throughout Argentina, the return of this charismatic species – an important seed disperser for many plant species – is a further mark of the program’s success.  Nigeria: Growing the Great Green Wall In Nigeria, the national Great Green Wall (GGW) program is being implemented across 11 frontline states, with a population of over 40 million people and comprising 43% of the country’s land. Nigeria is threatened by recurrent droughts, persistent land degradation, and encroaching desertification spreading across grasslands and wetlands. One of the key components of the national GGW program is the establishment of a contiguous 1,400-kilometer shelterbelt (windbreak) from Kebbi state in the northwest to Borno state in the northeast, to ward off Harmattan winds from the Sahara.  Iran: Replenishing a biosphere reserve In Iran, a clear signal of vanishing wetlands is the increased frequency and intensity of dust storms, heralding the advance of desertification. The basin of Lake Urmia is home to 6.4 million people and 200 species of birds. Agricultural expansion and population growth over the past decades led to the over-exploitation of lake’s resources, causing land degradation. To remedy the situation, Iran has launched a sustainable management project for the lake, working with local communities. Engineering works have helped to unblock and un-silt the feeder rivers, and there has been a deliberate release of water from dams in the surrounding areas.   China: Reviving Himalayan wildlife Situated at the headwaters of the Yellow River, the sedge-dominated peatlands in the Ruoergai plateau in China store water and supply it to downstream areas. They are also home to endemic and endangered Himalayan wildlife species. In the 1960-70s, these peatlands, which had been drained for agriculture, began to be badly damaged by overgrazing, with over 70 percent severely degraded as a result. A peatland restoration project implemented on almost 5,000 ha over six years included blocking the canals and cultivating vegetation to raise the water table. Rewetting targeted areas resulted in enhanced carbon sequestration and reduced emissions. Restored sites also recreated habitats for endemic amphibians and birds, while water stored in previously dry canals provides water for livestock, supporting local communities   Belarus: Bringing peatlands back to life In Belarus, massive peat excavation resulted in about 300,000 ha drained to harvest peat deposits for fuel. Since 2018, a peatland restoration project, supported by UNCCD, is centered on around the application of rewetting techniques and improvements in monitoring, forecasting and early warning of peatland fires. Rewetting and re-naturalization of peatlands provides vast ecosystem benefits: the increased level of ground water reduces drought risks while preventing further mineralization of peats locks the soil carbon in the rewetted areas, removing it from the atmosphere. Rewetted peatlands also have a larger potential to sustain biodiversity and supply additional income-generating opportunities for local populations, such as cranberry harvesting.   As emphasized by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, successful wetland restoration requires a concerted effort from governments, civil society and the private sector. Investments in science for technology innovation, infrastructure for effective management and financial mechanisms for project implementation can turn the tide toward a better future for wetlands. Photo credit: @UNDP_Belarus 

Wet wonderlands: Making a case for wetland restoration