Restoring Country to Address Multiple Crises


  • Opinion by Ibrahim Thiaw (Bonn, Germany
  • Inter Press Service

As we celebrate the 50th World Environment Day, let’s step up our efforts to deliver on global promises to restore one billion degraded acres by 2030 — an area the size of the US or China — to reduce the loss of life and livelihoods ​and secure future prosperity for all .

We must act quickly – and together – to deliver on these commitments through tangible action and effective investment. By doing so, we can discover that the answer to some of humanity’s greatest challenges is right under our feet.

It was against the backdrop of multiple global challenges, including the worst drought in 40 years in East Africa, as well as food and economic crises fueled by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and conflict, that 196 countries came together in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire from 9 -20 May for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

At the May 9 summit convened by Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara, leaders adopted the Abidjan Call, which strengthens the commitment to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. Simply put, this means ending land loss from the damage we do to our forests, peatlands, savannas and other ecosystems.

Leaders’ call to action comes in response to a stark warning by the UNCCD’s flagship Global Land Outlook report that up to 40% of all ice-free land has already been degraded, severely impacting climate, biodiversity and livelihoods . Business as usual will result in a degradation of 16 million square kilometers (nearly the size of South America) by 2050, expelling 69 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The report underlines that investing in large-scale land regeneration is a powerful, cost-effective and viable way to restore our communities, economies, health and much more.

Restoring one billion hectares of degraded land will add 50% to global GDP, help address climate and biodiversity crises, increase water and food security and open a new path to recovery from the pandemic. It would also mitigate seemingly unrelated crises, such as forced migration: land remediation would help reduce the estimated 700 million people at risk of being displaced by drought by 2030.

At the end of the two-week negotiations in Abidjan, countries sent out a joint appeal on the importance of healthy and productive land for securing future prosperity for all and for increasing the drought resilience the world craves.

Exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, droughts are increasing in frequency and severity and could affect an estimated three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050, according to UNCCD’s Drought in Numbers 2022 report. Recognizing drought as a serious threat to humanity, the UNCCD parties agreed to step up cooperation to explore new policies at the regional and global levels, and work together on COP16 in Saudi Arabia.

With 38 decisions taken at COP15, the Convention will be able to anticipate and respond to the changes in the country that may occur in the coming years. As a concrete example of COP15 decisions, a global database will be developed to help countries map the exact location of the billion hectares set aside for recovery and track the progress of recovery in a systematic manner.

This will help the international community to benchmark action against national-level targets. More importantly, it will help countries make informed decisions.

Future-proof land management will also help increase agricultural productivity, prevent supply chain disruptions and withstand future environmental shocks. The $2.5 billion Abidjan Legacy Program, launched by President Ouattara in Abidjan, exemplifies long-term environmental sustainability investments in key value chains in Côte d’Ivoire, while protecting and restoring forests and land and enhancing the resilience of communities. against climate change is improved.

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, which followed the UNCCD COP15, I argued for greater involvement of the food and land use sectors, which represent about 12% of global GDP and up to 40% of employment, in land efforts for recovery and resilience to drought.

Stronger governance for better land management

The Abidjan COP15 was transformational in many ways, not least a growing recognition of the vital role of good governance for effective land recovery and drought resilience.

COP15 agreed on policy actions to enable land regeneration through stronger property rights, gender equality, spatial planning and youth engagement to attract private sector investment in conservation, agriculture and land use practices that improve land health.

Take gender equality, for example. Although women make up almost half of all agricultural workers, they own only 18% of the corresponding land titles in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, women are twice more affected by desertification, land degradation and drought than men, according to a new UNCCD study released at COP15 during the Gender Caucus.

Still, when empowered, women can lead the way in global land remediation efforts, as examples from around the world—from Nepal to Jordan to Paraguay—show. The decisions taken at COP15 aim to promote women’s involvement in land management and recovery efforts by strengthening their rights and facilitating access to finance.

UNCCD is at the forefront of international environmental treaties by recognizing that we cannot reverse land degradation without secure land ownership. Tenants know that when they invest in the land, they will reap the rewards; they are more motivated to protect the long-term health and productivity of their land.

Secure ownership is not only important for small-scale farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities, it is equally important for those making large-scale investments in neutrality and restoration of land degradation. Otherwise, it can become a source of tension or conflict over natural resources. At COP15, countries agreed to build on existing guidelines on land ownership to ensure inclusive and meaningful participation of all actors in the fight against land degradation.

Young people make up the bulk of the population in countries affected by desertification, land degradation and drought. And in many of these countries, land-based sectors are the mainstay of economies. Therefore, the Youth Forum at COP15 focused on supporting youth entrepreneurship in the land, securing decent jobs in the land and strengthening youth participation in the Convention. In addition to better land management, it could also go a long way in reducing social unrest due to high youth unemployment rates.

Tackling climate, biodiversity and land crises together

Climate change, loss of biodiversity and land degradation pose an existential threat to nature and humanity. The mutual connections are clearly established. Our actions to address them also need to be interconnected and coordinated, as there is no way to achieve our climate, biodiversity or land goals without tackling them together.

UNCCD is one of three global treaties that emerged from the Rio Earth Summit 30 years ago, along with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

As the international community gathers in Stockholm this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic UN Conference on the Human Environment, the three Rio conventions are making a joint call to make this decade a decade of urgent action, recovery and transformation, uniting the land, biodiversity and climate agendas for the survival of people and planet.

On this World Environment Day themed ‘Only One Earth’, let us have the same sense of urgency and solidarity as our predecessors at the historic conference in Stockholm in 1972. Fifty years later, this truth still holds true: this planet is our only home.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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