UN Conventions to Combat Desertification Conference of the Parties Tenth session – Opening Ceremony

Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development


We are gathered today, because combating desertification is a global issue, with serious implications for global food security and sustainable development.

We do so while keenly aware that among the most affected countries are the least developed and land-locked countries.

They are the ones faced with mounting difficulties in combating desertification and land degradation.

They deserve to be heard and they must be heard.

At stake is the food security and sustainable development of over one billion people living in drylands.

None of us wants the 21st century to be one of recurrent food and humanitarian crises.

Yet we are headed in that direction!

Thankfully, this course is not inevitable.

We have the technological, financial and institutional means to prevent it.

By being more pro-active, the international community can help avert the social, environmental and economic costs of drought… desertification… and land degradation.

And we should dispel the perception that drylands are a poor investment.

There are practical actions that Member States can take now to help.

Ensuring access of farmers to regional and global markets for agricultural products from drylands is essential to increased investment in land management; so is international development cooperation.

All this can happen, given political will and commitment.

Rio+20 provides an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate that political will and commitment.

The theme – a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication – provides a broad context for addressing the concerns of people living in dryland regions.

If we can agree on a green economy roadmap at Rio+20, one that is backed by strong political will and means of implementation, it can help guide us to achieve long-term food security through sustainable agriculture.

The theme of institutional framework for sustainable development is likewise significant.  There are several options under consideration.

Whatever the final decision at Rio, we are confident it will help combat drought and desertification.

Getting this framework right is crucial for implementing commitments… achieving greater integration among the three pillars… and ensuring coherence across the UN system and other institutions.

To give us much needed focus, some Member States have proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With respect to land degradation, interest has been expressed in a possible target – such as achieving a “zero net land degradation rate” by a given year.

Our ardent hope is that the SDG discussion will help advance sustainable development in countries and regions experiencing drought, desertification and land degradation.


Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation event. History has given all of us here an opportunity to make a difference. Let us seize this opportunity.

With less than 8 months to go, it is crucial that Governments show vision and exercise leadership, starting today, at this Conference of Parties.

Thank you.