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UNGA High Level Event on Desertification Provides Input to COP 10 and UNCSD

20 September 2011: Prior to the opening of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the UNGA convened a High-level Meeting on addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. The outcome of the deliberations will feed into the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20).

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the meeting and noted that “resisting desertification, preserving drylands and nurturing the communities that depend on them lies at the core of sustainable development.” He called for sustainable land use to become a “cornerstone” of a green economy.

In the course of a plenary session and two interactive panel discussions, several key messages emerged. Many speakers emphasized that desertification, land degradation, and drought (DLDD) undermine all three pillars of sustainable development, and threaten to reverse progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). South Africa said that addressing DLDD is sine qua non to achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication. Speakers also highlighted the connections among DLDD, climate change, poverty eradication, food security, deforestation and biodiversity loss, and called for all to be addressed jointly.

Some speakers noted the role that forests play in addressing DLDD, and said that forest management and efforts to increase forest cover should be prioritized. Soil degradation was also discussed and greater awareness of the need to protect soil was urged, with Israel calling for an international framework on soil and land issues.

Several speakers proposed that a goal for “zero net land degradation” should be adopted as a quantitative sustainable development target.

Many speakers emphasized the need for funding and issues related to accessing funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  Kenya expressed the hope that the next GEF replenishment would allocate additional resources to land issues.

Many speakers suggested that DLDD should feature prominently at the UNCSD and in its outcome document. The EU echoed Secretary-General Ban's call for investment in sustainable land management to become an integral part of shifting to a green economy. Nepal called for Rio+20 to give attention to DLDD in mountain countries. Italy expressed the hope that DLDD would be a “cornerstone” of the outcome document.

A number of speakers discussed options to raise the level of scientific advice to the UNCCD, with several calling for an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-type body. The US suggested that land issues could be incorporated into the mandate of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and did not support the creation of an additional scientific mechanism.

The incoming president of UNCCD COP 10, the Republic of Korea, outlined issues that it proposed could be incorporated into a “Changwon Initiative” at COP 10: establishing a panel of experts to provide scientific support; supporting economic tools to ensure that a green economy contributes to DLDD, poverty eradication and sustainable development; and mainstreaming sustainable land management into national development policies.

Qatar presented its proposal for a Global Dry Land Alliance, which would support new research and innovation, broader sharing of knowledge and best practices. Germany announced it was launching, on 20 September, an International Economics of Land Degradation (IELD) initiative.

A representative of civil society noted that rehabilitating productive land is worth the cost, as compared to the high cost of doing nothing. He also called for COP 10 to adopt a framework on gender and take charge of implementing the gender dimension of the UNCCD.

Many speakers also voiced the need to take urgent action to protect populations in the Horn of Africa.

At the end of the day, the Office of the President of the General Assembly presented a summary of the discussions, and said it would be referred to UNCCD COP 10 and Rio+20. Participants' written statements will be made available on the website of the UNGA President. [UN Summary of Event] [Statement of GA President] [Statement of UN Secretary-General] [Webcast of Opening Plenary] [Webcast of Panel 1] [Webcast of Panel 2] [Webcast of Closing Plenary][UNCCD Website for UNGA High Level Event] [GA President's Summary of Discussions]