From a drop in groundwater level, rivers silt and sediments entering the sea, the earth’s exposure to the whims of the weather, from sea erosion, wildfires in California and Australia, to flooding in Asia, heat waves in Europe, and the disappearance of forests, world leaders at COP15 are calling for more robust action to tackle deforestation, land degradation and drought.
“Now is the time for action. There is no future for our children or the planet if we continue with ‘business as usual’ when it comes to managing our land. COP15 is our moment in history, as the international community, to put people and the planet on a new course; on the path to life, to COVID-19 recovery and to prosperity,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Deforestation (UNCCD), at the conference in Abidjan.
“The decisions countries take at COP15 must be transformational, not incremental, to achieve land restoration and drought resilience the world longs for,” he added.
The UNCCD was established in 1994 to protect and restore lands and ensure a safer, just, and more sustainable future. It is the only legally binding framework set up to address desertification and the effects of drought.
The 15th session of the Conference of the Parties aims to rally and unite the world around the vision of a land-degradation neutral world, naturally preserve land, recover degrading land to sustainable use, and to build resilient ecosystems and biodiversity to deal with the current and coming effects of climate change.
Environmental experts have warned that ‘Business as Usual’ will, by 2050, result in degradation of 16 million square kilometers (almost the size of South America), with 69 gigatons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. But land restoration would help reduce the estimated 700 million people at risk of being displaced by drought by 2030 and Liberia as a country will be no exception.
Speaking at the conference, the United Nations General Assembly’s president, Abdulla Shahid, stressed the need for the protection and promotion of productive lands, terming it as critical for global food security and healthy ecosystems.
Key on the agenda and discussions tables are the restoration of one billion hectares of degraded land between now and 2030, and future-proofing people, their homes and lands against the impacts of disaster risks linked to climate change, such as droughts, and sand and dust storms.
By the end of the COP15, leaders are expected to agree on policy actions to provide an enabling environment for land restoration through stronger tenure rights, gender equality, land use planning and youth engagement to draw private sector investment to conservation, farming, and land uses and practices to improve the health of the land.
During the Gender Caucus convened alongside the Heads of State Summit, Côte d’Ivoire’s First Lady Dominique Ouattara and the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed launched a new study on the differentiated impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought on men and women.
The study places a spotlight on the disproportionate impacts girls and women are facing as a result of land degradation and how, if given the agency, they can be at the forefront of global land restoration efforts.
Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: “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.”
Côte d'Ivoire’s First lady, Dominique Ouattara, said: “Women are the backbone of the rural economy, especially in developing countries. They represent almost half of the world’s farmers. We must at all costs win together in our quest to empower women farmers through various measures including land tenure security and access to rural finance.”
This year, the UNCCD COP15 is convening under the theme, “Land. Life. Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity”, a call to action to ensure land, which is the lifeline on this planet, will also benefit present and future generations.
At COP26 in 2021, developed countries committed US$100 billion a year to support climate change adaptation in developing countries. The Liberian government, meanwhile, proposed a US$490.5 million adaptation plan which is focused on six climate-sensitive sectors – agriculture, coastal resources, energy, fisheries, forestry and waste.
Liberia has committed to funding 15% itself; the other 85% will come from donors. To unlock those funds the government must submit acceptable proposals, international donors told New Narratives at the recent anti-corruption investigation at the Agriculture Ministry.
At the close of the head of states summit, leaders adopted the Abidjan Call. The Abidjan Call urges countries to give the highest priority to the issue of drought and reinforce the commitment towards achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.
Their call to action comes in response to a stark warning by the UNCCD that up to 40% of all ice-free land is already degraded, with dire consequences for climate, biodiversity and livelihoods.
Renewing his commitment, President Ouattara also announced the ambitious “Abidjan Legacy” Program to boost long-term environmental sustainability across major value chains in Côte d’Ivoire while protecting and restoring forests and lands and improving communities’ resilience to climate change, which will require mobilization of US$1.5 billion over the next five years.
The initial pledges made during the Summit towards this goal came from the African Development Bank, the European Union, the Green Growth Initiative, and the World Bank Group.
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: World Leaders at the ongoing Conference of Parties (COP15) in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire / Credit: Earth Negotiation Bulletin.