THE DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL
REMARKS AT HIGH LEVEL EVENT ON DESERTIFICATION
14 June 2021
On behalf of the Secretary General, I am pleased to join you for this Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought.
I thank the President of the General Assembly for convening this important discussion.
And I would also like to thank Ibrahim Thiaw Executive Secretary of the UNCDD for his dedicated leadership.
We are facing a triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, and land is at the centre of all three.
Land sustains life on the planet.
Its ecosystems provide our food, clean water and energy.
Yet, today, some 20 per cent of land is no longer usable.
Half the world’s population is affected.
Unsustainable land management and climate disruption are costing more than 10 per cent of annual global Gross Domestic Product.
And desertification and drought, made worse by climate change, are intersecting with conflict and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to put 34 million people at risk of famine.
This is a pivotal year for restoring balance with nature.
Landmark summits on food, energy, biodiversity and climate change need to combine to put the world on a more sustainable path.
Today’s Dialogue is pivotal.
We are closing the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification and entering the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration.
I see four priorities for the decade ahead.
First, all stakeholders must raise ambition on land restoration. The G20 initiative to reduce degraded land by 50 per cent by 2040 is a step in the right direction. But to deliver on this, we must end illegal deforestation.
Second, we must invest in land-based solutions to sustain COVID-19 recovery efforts and tackle the climate crisis while creating strong economic returns especially jobs for young people and women. For every dollar spent on conservation, almost seven more are generated in the larger economy in the medium-term. And restoring degraded land can contribute to 25 to 30 per cent of the climate mitigation needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Third, we must get the financing right, to scale-up land restoration and translate commitments into action. This year, Africa’s Great Green Wall Initiative received pledges of $14 billion dollars to help restore 100 million hectares of degraded land. Pledges must be turned into urgent investments and even then, we still need more to deliver for the people of the Sahel.
Finally, we need to measure our land resources and ecosystems to value them. The new System of Environmental-Economic Accounting adopted by the UN Statistical Commission will ensure that natural capital – our land, forests, wetlands and other ecosystems — are recognized in economic reporting and that our natural assets are maintained like our economic assets.
A growing body of evidence shows that nature offers opportunities to improve human well-being and prosperity.
Restoring land is simple, inexpensive, and accessible to all. It can unite us, end conflict and sustain peace.
Small-scale farmers, including youth and women, are at the front lines of action. Yet many are left behind when it comes to land rights.
It can take little as $20 dollars to rehabilitate one hectare of farmland in Africa. During this time of crisis, healthy land is needed more than ever for our communities.
Let us resolve to work together to bring about a transition to restored land that delivers for people, planet and prosperity.