COP15 desertification conference: new frameworks to reverse biodiversity loss and deforestation

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Alassane Dramane Ouattara, President of Côte d’Ivoire, Office of the President of Côte d’Ivoire

  • Land degradation is accelerating a sixth mass species extinction and is costing more than 10% of world annual GDP, according to the United Nations.
  • Côte d’Ivoire recently hosted the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
  • New frameworks were launched to help restore forests and land, boost food production, create jobs for young people and lift rural women out of poverty.

COP15 has created opportunities for new frameworks to reverse biodiversity loss and deforestation. The world is approaching the point of no return in land degradation, desertification and deforestation, but we can reverse it if we act now. Soil degradation affects 52% of all agricultural land, threatening the very existence of 2.6 billion people who depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods. We are losing on average 12 million hectares of land each year due to desertification and drought. This is the equivalent of nearly 23 hectares per minute. More than 74% of the world’s poorest populations are directly affected by land degradation.

In terms of loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, land degradation is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction and is costing more than 10% of world annual GDP, according to the United Nations.

Moreover, with the world population set to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, water security is another key area of concern, directly impacting global food security. This increase in population, particularly in Africa, will put additional pressure on natural resources such as land, forests, and water sources.

African nations are facing an acute climate crisis

In West Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), warns that the desert is expanding by 5 kms each year in semi-arid zones. In Côte d’Ivoire, the crisis is acute, with desertification and drought affecting 60% of our national territory, largely in the northern regions. Our forest area has dwindled from 16 million hectares in the 1900s to a mere 2.9 million hectares in 2021.

The impact on our agriculture and agro-industry sectors has been profound, threatening the very foundation of our national economy, and posing threats to our energy and health security, with long term ramifications on peace and progress. Many African nations face similar challenges.


How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

Our planet is straining under the burden of a global population of nearly 8 billion people.

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate accelerates actions on climate change and environmental sustainability, food systems, the circular economy and value chains, and the future of international development.

  • Through the Global Plastic Action Partnership, we are bringing together government, business and civil society to shape a more sustainable world through the eradication of plastic pollution.
  • The centre is championing Nature-Based Solutions. Global companies are working together through the initiative to support 1 trillion trees by 2030. Since September 2021, over 30 companies have committed to conserve, restore and grow more than 3.6 billion trees in over 60 countries.
  • Through a partnership with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and over 30 global businesses, the Forum is encouraging companies to join the First Movers Coalition and invest in innovative green technologies so they are available for massive scale-up by 2030 to enable net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
  • The centre is also bringing leaders together to make commitments to a circular economy approach. Globally, the Scale360° initiative will reduce the environmental impact of value chains within the fashion, food, plastics and electronics industries – a significant step in making the $4.5 trillion circular economy opportunity a reality. The African Circular Economy Alliance is funding circular economy entrepreneurs and circular economy activities in countries including Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa. In China, the Forum’s Circular Electronics in China project is helping companies reduce and recycle 50% of e-waste by 2025.
  • The Forum is also crowdsourcing solutions to the climate crisis through its open innovation platform, UpLink. Since 2020 this digital space has welcomed over 40,000 users who are working on over 30 challenges including reducing plastic ocean pollution, scaling efforts to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees and innovating the production and processing of aquatic foods.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

Current global restoration commitments cover around one billion hectares, requiring investments of between $300 billion and $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years. The costs are highest for sub-Saharan Africa which is home to half of all restoration commitments. As a scale of reference, the government of Côte d’Ivoire has launched initiatives to recover 3 million hectares of forest by 2030, a task that will cost up over $1.1 billion. These costs, as is for many African countries, are prohibitively expensive.

This kind of spending was envisaged in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement when developed nations committed $100 billion annually to help developing countries succeed in their adaptation to climate change and the energy transition. It is therefore essential that we accelerate the implementation of these decisions and agree on a cost-sharing mechanism to protect the earth’s lands from further degradation. Developed countries must further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and keep their commitments.

What frameworks were agreed at COP15?

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has said that every dollar invested in restoring our land can generate up to $30 in benefits. Key donor initiatives such as the IMF’s Trust Fund for Resilience and Sustainability, the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are all designed to support global collaboration to reverse the devastating impact of land degradation in the most vulnerable parts of the world.

Last month, between 9-20 May, Côte d’Ivoire hosted the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) with a summit of 25 heads of state and government. Themed ‘Land. Life. Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity’, the conference was a call to action to reverse the catastrophic cocktail of land degradation, deforestation and desertification that is fuelling conflict, poverty, hunger, and migration in the most vulnerable populations around the world.

Heads of State at the Abidjan COP15 conference agreed on major decisions to invest in land restoration and drought mitigation. Image source: Government of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire.

At COP15, Côte d’Ivoire launched a new global cooperation framework, called the Abidjan Legacy Programme to restore forests and land, boost food production, create jobs for young people and lift rural women out of poverty. The extensive and innovative programme will deploy advanced technologies such as tree-planting drones, drought-resistant plant varieties, and modern irrigation techniques over a period of five years between 2022 and 2027. To implement the programme, Côte d’Ivoire raised over $2.5 billion worth of commitments from international donors, exceeding the initial target of $1.5 billion.

We now have concrete frameworks to put this funding to work to address catastrophic land degradation and deforestation. We must act now as a collective global force to reinstate our lands and forests. We also need to mobilize private sector partnerships across global agriculture value chains to invest in the restoration of our land ecosystems.

COP15 was a pivotal moment where the world came together to share the burden of saving our land and giving hope to our farmers, reversing catastrophic degradation and deforestation, and solving one of the most urgent challenges of our time.

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