World leaders, environmentalists, civil society organizations and professionals from across the world are gathered in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire for the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). This year’s conference is held under the theme, “Land. Life. Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity.” The overarching goal of the COP15 is a call to action to ensure land, the lifeline on the planet, continues to benefit present and future generations.
From May 9 to 20, 2022 leaders of governments, the private sector, civil society and other key stakeholders will hold high-level policy discussions to drive progress in the future sustainable management of lands.
The COP15 is a key moment in the fight against desertification, land degradation and drought. The meeting is expected to build on the findings of the second edition of the Global Land Outlook and offer a concrete response to the interconnected challenges of land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss as the world moves into the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
According to the conference organizers, land restoration, drought, gender equality and youth empowerment are at the top of the conference’s agenda with the aim to galvanize sustainable solutions for land restoration and drought resilience, with a strong focus on future-proofing land use.
Liberia’s President, George Weah, is among the world leaders attending the COP15 in Côte d'Ivoire. The Liberian leader will participate in first two days of a Heads of States Summit. The President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, is also in attendance at the COP15. He is expected to address the COP15 alongside other heads of state.
While in Côte d'Ivoire, the President of the General Assembly is expected to meet Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kandia Camara, and hold discussions with the Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development in Cote d’Ivoire, Jean-Luc Assi.
As a supporter of youth-led efforts, President Shahid will participate in the COP15 Youth Forum where he will meet with elected youth representatives to the conference. He will use the opportunity to see the work of the United Nations and meet with Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and UNCCD Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw, among others.
Why is Liberia participating?
Liberia’s forest accounts for half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa which covers more than 60% of the nation’s land surface and the forests are the fourth-largest contributor to Liberia’s economy, but deforestation, which has given rise to a variant of climate change impacts, is also playing out.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007 concluded that most of the warming of the climate is mostly due to increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere resulting from human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels in power stations for electricity and in vehicles, as well as deforestation.
In 2020, Liberia lost up to 218,000 hectares (ha) of natural forest because of deforestation. This is equivalent to 129Mt of CO₂ of emissions. Liberia in 2010 had 9.16Mha of natural forest, extending to over 97% of its land area according to the Global Forest Watch.
On the other hand, Liberia’s forests also make one of the world’s hotspots for biological diversity, but it faces pressing challenges due to illegal logging, while the government in its quests to raise revenue has given key forest-rich resources into logging concessions. Forest governance in Liberia remains a challenge despite legislating and adapting policies meant to adequately govern the sector like Act 1953 for the conservation of Liberia’s forest, among other regulations.
At COP26 in 2021, the Global Conference on Climate Change, Liberian President, George Weah, expressed the country’s intention to maintain the nation’s forests and committed to implementing the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) geared towards adapting to measures to implement climate resilient programs to guarantee the wellness of mankind.
“This natural endowment is a buffer not only for us, but the larger world. We are a major part of the global lungs which make it possible for the industrial world to breathe,” said President George Weah.
The Liberian President informed the world that his administration “has lived up to the Paris Accord in reducing deforestation from logging and timber production and agriculture" although local and international reports and a report by the World Bank on the state of Liberia’s forests seem to find otherwise.
This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in Front Page Africa on 10 May 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Deforestation in Liberia / Credit: Joseph Reece via Unsplash.