‘Business as Usual’ Not Working, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Heads of State at Climate Change Conference on Desertification, Land Degradation

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the Head of States meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCD) COP15 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, today:

I am delighted to be with you today to open COP15 on Desertification and Land Degradation with a specific focus on drought and land restoration.  I thank the President and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire for hosting this crucial Conference.

We meet at a critical moment.  There is not a Government in the world that is not under social and economic pressure right now.  The cost of the COVID-19 pandemic is approaching $12 trillion.  The war in Ukraine is wreaking havoc on food, energy and development finance, affecting 1.7 billion people around the world.

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years, putting 10 million children at grave risk.  The severe heatwave across South Asia is testing the limits of human survival and the recent floods in South Africa are signs that our planet is stretched to its limits.

These interlinked crises remind us of why the world came together in 2015 to make a commitment to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.  Achieving those commitments requires investments at scale, prioritization and, in many cases, financial support.

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.  Investments in tackling desertification and land degradation are among the most effective we can make.

Half the world’s GDP and half its grain supplies depend on addressing land degradation.  Yet rather than investing in solutions, the world is accelerating land degradation and making desertification worse.  The Global Land Outlook report just issued by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification shows that our current approach to land management is putting half the world’s economic output — $44 trillion — at risk.

At the same time, poverty and hunger are increasing for the first time in a generation; the World Bank is warning that food and energy prices will remain elevated for three years; and the Secretary-General has mobilized the international community to catalyse urgent action through the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance.

Clearly, business as usual is not working.  As we approach the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they remain our best hope to build a sustainable and inclusive future.  The ground beneath our feet is the perfect foundation on which to build that future.  Land restoration connects with every single SDG, with every country, and with every person on the planet.

Projections indicate that land restoration could generate up to $140 trillion a year — one-and-a-half times last year’s GDP.  And that can be achieved for less than a quarter of the sum spent on fossil fuels and farming subsidies each year.  In fact, every dollar invested in restoring our land can generate up to $30 in benefits.

We are faced with a crucial choice.  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.  Let me give some concrete illustrations:

We can either spend $2 trillion a year on reacting to future pandemics, or just 1 per cent of that sum now to stop them at source.  We can use 80 per cent of farmland for livestock to produce 20 per cent of our calories or use the same farmland for 100 per cent of calories — which also provide a healthier diet.  We can continue degrading land equivalent to the size of South America, or we can restore land to store the equivalent of seven years of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is that we are making progress on land restoration.  The G20 has committed to halve degraded land by 2040, and to restore a billion hectares by 2030 — an area the size of the United States or China.  But we need to step up our ambition.  In this neighbourhood, I believe two great accelerators are the Great Green Wall and the drive for gender equality.

The Great Green Wall, which runs north of where we are meeting right now, has already restored millions of hectares and created thousands of jobs.  But it is still far from creating the 10 million jobs we are aiming for and counting on.  The Great Green Wall Accelerator launched last year will help us achieve these ambitious goals.

We need to turn pledges and projects into transformational action for land and food systems and convert incremental reforms into bold action to create jobs and skills.  That is the only way to reap the full rewards of an economy based on land restoration.

Women and girls are central to building a land restoration economy.  But they continue to be marginalized, and to pay the heaviest price when it comes to land loss, climate change, COVID and conflict.  Gender inequality is increasing — despite decades of action.  Women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water and even more tending the land — but lack equal 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.  Here in Cote D’Ivoire, sustainable cocoa initiatives are showing the way.  Through the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, women in Kossoyo transformed their community with savings and loans, improving profits, controlling household budgets, and reducing social tension and conflict.

Climate change, COVID-19 and conflict are multiplying crises.  But sustainable land management can multiply the chances of recovery and pull millions back from the brink of poverty, hunger and forced migration.  To tackle today’s interlinked crises, we need to find solutions that are mutually reinforcing and create a virtuous cycle.

This important Conference of Parties is an important opportunity to start building economic recovery from the ground up.  The SDGs provide the compass and the Global Land Outlook the business plan.  Now we need to make a start.  I count on each and every one of you to do so.

In closing, let me thank you for the hard work your teams have put in to get us to this point and reiterate the words of the United Nations Secretary-General:  “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the twenty-first century.”  I know you will all continue to work to make this COP a success — to catalyse global action for land restoration and build a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

For information media. Not an official record.