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High-level UN conference debates precious commodity: Land

Often, vulnerable communities are situated in areas of poor or marginal soils, which increases the pressure for expansion of agricultural lands.
UNDP Lao PDR/Tock Soulasen Phomm
Often, vulnerable communities are situated in areas of poor or marginal soils, which increases the pressure for expansion of agricultural lands.

High-level UN conference debates precious commodity: Land

Climate and Environment

The 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), kicked-off on Monday, in the Ivorian "economic" capital.

Against the backdrop of a UNCCD warning that up to 40 per cent of all ice-free land has already degraded, threatening dire consequences for climate, biodiversity, and livelihoods, world leaders are meeting in Abidjan under the theme of “Land, Life. Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity”.

“We are faced with a crucial choice,” Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the participants.

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“We can either reap the benefits of land restoration now or continue on the disastrous path that has led us to the triple planetary crisis of climate, biodiversity and pollution”.

Land, the lifeline on this planet

Every year 12 million hectares of land are lost, according to recent data.

“The Global Land Outlook report just issued by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification shows that our current approach to land management is putting half the world’s economic output – $44 trillion USD - at risk”, said Ms. Mohammed.

“We must ensure that funds are available for countries that need them, and that those funds are invested in areas that will have a decisive impact and create a more inclusive, sustainable future for all,” she continued, reminding that land restoration connects all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With a focus on restoring one billion hectares of degraded land between now and 2030, the conference aims to contribute to future-proofing land against the climate impacts, and tackling escalating disaster risks such as droughts, sand and dust storms, and wildfires.

Gamechanging role

The Deputy Secretary-General said that despite that women spend 200 million hours each day collecting water, and even more tending the land, they still lack access to land rights and finance.

“Eliminating those barriers and empowering women and girls as landowners and partners is a game-changer for land restoration, for the 2030 Agenda, and for the African Union’s Agenda 2063”, she said underlining their central role in building a land restoration economy.

Concrete action

Also speaking at the Summit, General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, emphasized the importance of addressing the serious issues affecting the well-being of people and their livelihoods, and of the environment.

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“Through it, we aim to move closer to...combatting desertification and restoring degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought, and floods,” Mr. Shahid said.

Reversing the current trends “is vital for effective action on behalf of climate and biodiversity,” especially to vulnerable communities, the President added. 

Mother nature deterioration not an option

According to the UN, land degradation undermines the well-being of some 3.2 billion people.

Unsustainable land use, agriculture and soil management practices are all major drivers of desertification, land degradation and drought.

“We are responsible for the bulk of this, considering that human activities directly influence 70 per cent of the world’s land”, Mr. Shahid alerted.

Attesting that “we cannot afford the alternative, of letting our relationship with mother nature deteriorate to the point of no return,” Mr. Shahid reiterated the importance of reflecting “upon the truth that a healthy relationship with nature is critical to prevent our exposure to new diseases and potential future pandemics”.

Calling all the parties to recommit to land degradation neutrality by 2030, Mr. Shahid said that it is necessary to tackle climate change, conserve and protect biodiversity, and maintain vital ecosystem services for “our shared prosperity and well-being, in the context of a climate responsible world”

Africa’s soils and agricultural land

Drought, land restoration, and related enablers such as land rights, gender equality and youth empowerment are among the top items on the Conference agenda, which is a pivotal moment in how the African continent will move forward in the face of climate change.

The meetings come as many African nations face unprecedent soil and land conservation issues. Drought in Ethiopia – the country’s worst in 40 years – is believed to be worsening the already deteriorating humanitarian situation for around 3.5 million people, more than half the local population.

Displaced families affected by drought, Somali Region, Ethiopia.
© UNICEF/Zerihun Sewunet
Displaced families affected by drought, Somali Region, Ethiopia.

And according to a report released last year by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), up to 65 per cent of Africa’s productive soils and agricultural land are degraded, while desertification affects 45 per cent of the continent’s land overall.

Nine African heads of State are expected to attend the meeting to discuss developing drought resilience and future-proofing land use, as well as pathways to land restoration.

Call to action

The Summit against desertification is a call to action to ensure that land – the lifeline on this planet – will also benefit present and future generations.

Over the next ten days, 196 states plus the European Union will be striving for concrete action against the rapid degradation of land, exploring links between land and addressing other key sustainability issues.