Critical Massive Effort Needed to Deliver 2030 Agenda Painfully Overdue, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Desertification Convention Signatories

DSG/SM/1319-ENV/DEV/1975
9 September 2019

Critical Massive Effort Needed to Deliver 2030 Agenda Painfully Overdue, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Desertification Convention Signatories

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the high-level session of the fourteenth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in New Delhi today:

My thanks to the Government of India for hosting this Conference and to the Executive Secretary for this opportunity to highlight the unprecedented expectations on your work here.  At any other time, I would be here to merely say congratulations on your twenty-fifth anniversary or that securing the Delhi Declaration on Unlocking Opportunities is a great achievement — which it is.

But, these are not normal times.  These are critical times.  So, I am here because, instead of marking the end of this conference, it is critical your work here marks the start of a massive effort.  To take the solutions you are discussing to scale.  To move beyond negotiation and planning to action and impact — individually and collectively.

We have already used one third of our time frame to deliver the 2030 Agenda.  We have just two weeks to galvanize urgent action ahead of the summits in New York.  And we have the three inextricably linked Rio Conventions on land, biodiversity and climate, which were created to trigger that action, but are still not being used to their full advantage.

The latest scientific data shows that the massive effort is painfully overdue.  A quarter of our greenhouse emissions come from land degradation.  A million species face extinction, threatening ecosystems that provide everything we eat, drink and breathe.  And the lives of half — half — the people on this planet are affected by desertification, land degradation and drought.

What’s worse is that the unhealthier our land becomes, the more dangerous the side effects will be.  Can we really afford to ignore that the loss of land and ecosystem services shrinks gross domestic product (GDP) by 10 per cent a year?  And increases the likelihood of violent conflict or forced migration?  And those risks — those people already feeling the effect — are spread right across the planet?  From the dip in Germany’s industrial output because drought hit Rhine shipping last year?  To the soil loss costing the United States up to $44 billion every year?  From the forest fires in the Arctic or the Amazon?  To the sandstorms and droughts in the Middle East or the Sahel?  And from the small island States and coastal communities fraying round the edges?  To the Himalayan communities where women and girls spend more time collecting firewood that they did when this Convention was born?

Right across the planet, when the land suffers, so do the people.  Yet, if we act with a sense of urgency and ambition, that same land holds an incredible number of the answers we are all looking for.  Answers that will let people thrive, not just to survive.  I believe everyone in this room is committed to that.

To my mind, we can do three things to step up the ambition, speed and results of our action.  First, let’s get out of our silos.  They constrain us and our ambition.  Cooperation and action that delivers multiple benefits must be the priority.  For example, we know that 820 million people are still going hungry.  And that crop yields are dropping as demand for food is set to increase by 50 per cent in the coming decades.  Restoring 150 million hectares of farmland could feed 200 million more people a year.  At the same time, it would provide greater resilience and over $30 billion a year in increased income for smallholders.  And sink an additional 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year.

Second, let’s deploy and invest our resources wisely.  A few days ago, the United Nations Global Compact and Italian energy company Enel announced the first general-purpose bond linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  It raised $1.5 billion.  That means it was three times oversubscribed, it certainly signals strong demand and should encourage more companies to follow suit.  All great news.  Until you realize that land degradation is costing us trillions of dollars a year and adding to the very emissions problem that bond is trying to solve.

If we stop land degradation, we stop these preventable losses.  If we restore the land, we put our investments into nature-based solutions that we know work.  That deliver for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification , but also for the national determined contributions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  And let nature and biodiversity flourish.

And third, build more innovative partnerships to scale up the impact of individual and collective action.  Look at the tea growers the Executive Secretary just mentioned; they are expanding restoration techniques.  In India, over half a million tea workers are working with Trustea to transform their farms and their futures.  In turn, Trustea is working with the Global Economic Facility, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Rainforest Alliance to scale up impact across four countries and improve consumer choices around the world.  While the land restoration and increased yields are contributing to national commitments on poverty, biodiversity and climate change.

It’s exactly that kind of home-grown, joined-up thinking that has allowed our host country to be one of the world’s fastest growing economies and still slash poverty by over 40 per cent.  And it’s a very concrete demonstration of why, if you act, you don’t have to choose between social, economic and environmental progress in each of our communities, in each of our countries; we can — we must — have them all.

That’s why I am delighted that this Conference of Parties is urging each party and each stakeholder to take bolder action on a bigger scale, but also aligns so closely with those three drivers to break down the silos; to invest wisely in sustainable management of resources and land restoration; and is building up the partnerships that will accelerate change.

We no longer have the luxury of spending the next 10 years debating targets.  We have two weeks to move our common agenda in the right direction — towards action and impact.  We can start with one opportunity, one child, one woman, one man, one tea farmer, one business, one land restoration project, then scale it up, speed it up and join it up.  In these critical times, this is our individual and collective responsibility.  It will be a massive effort.  But, together, we can get it done.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.