30 June 2021
UNGA Dialogue Highlights Land Restoration as Urgent Requirement for Sustainable Development
Photo Credit: WMO
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A high-level dialogue on DLDD aimed to establish land restoration as a central priority ahead of upcoming COPs on climate, land and biodiversity.

The discussion highlighted healthy land as the world’s “most effective water filter,” and speakers supported adopting and implementing Land Degradation Neutrality targets, among other priorities for action in the coming decade.

The UN General Assembly held a high-level dialogue on desertification, land degradation and drought. Following on the closing of the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification (2010-2020), the Dialogue aimed to establish land restoration as a central priority ahead of upcoming COPs on climate, land and biodiversity.

Speakers framed land degradation as an imminent threat to sustainable development and each of the 17 SDGs specifically. They highlighted healthy land as the world’s “most effective water filter,” in the words of UNGA President Volkan Bozkir, and the loss of such healthy land perpetuates climate change, drives extinction, and threatens the security and livelihood and security of 3 billion people.

Opening the meeting held on 14 June 2021 at UN headquarters in New York, US, and with virtual participation, Bozkir issued a call to action for Member States to “elevate the importance of land issues” and commit to international cooperation both to avert further degradation and to revive degraded land.

Calling attention to SDG 15 (life on land) in particular, Bozkir identified several actions that are in need of moving forward, including:

  • UN Member States should consider adopting and implementing Land Degradation Neutrality targets. These targets would facilitate land restoration through sustainable water and land management strategies, while restoring ecosystem functions and biodiversity;
  • Governments should consider lessons learned from the Decade to Fight Desertification and apply it towards the next decade;
  • Unsustainable agriculture should be addressed urgently through national dialogues in the lead-up to the UN Food Systems Summit; and
  • Empowering agricultural workers through financial capabilities and tenure rights.

Guinea on behalf of the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China) supported the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) targets and urged the adoption and implementation of targets by Member States. He said restoring degraded land brings profound impacts, and with COVID-19 recovery plans underway, restoration would increase food security, raise incomes through job creation and essentially support economic resilience.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed introduced the potential for action in 2021, noting the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), which aims to restore the balance between humans and nature. During this decade she said the international community will be working towards the recovery and conservation of ecosystems that have been or are at risk of being degraded or destroyed. Mohammed highlighted four priorities for the next ten years:

  • Stakeholders need to be more ambitious with land restoration initiatives;
  • Land-based solutions should be integrated into COVID-19 recovery plans as a means for strengthening economic returns and climate change action;
  • Secure financing should be provided to actualize commitments and scale up land restoration projects; and
  • Ecosystems and land resources should be measured so they can be properly valued . 

The priorities were echoed by UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw in closing remarks. He underscored the value of land restoration investment and its value for combatting poverty, securing food production, and reducing the risk of insecurity and stress-induced migration. Finally, he reminded participants there is a window of opportunity for land stewardship not merely for our sake but also for the sake of the planet- essentially “making peace with nature.”

Following the high-level dialogue, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a statement marking the International Desertification Day on 17 June 2021. He said the world can “be our greatest ally” but currently it is suffering. He cited climate change, expansion of cities, infrastructure, and agriculture as drivers of land degradation placing at risk the well-being of 3.2 billion people at risk. As a benefit to land restoration, Guterres projected that the agriculture industry could expect to see a USD1.4 trillion dollar increase in production each year.

A meeting of the Assembly will reconvene on 2 July 2021 to continue the high-level meeting as not all speakers were able to make statements and will be given the opportunity to in this follow-up. [Meeting webcast – morning] [Meeting webcast – afternoon] [UN News story]

This article was authored by Rukiya Abdulle, MSc Candidate at the University of Toronto, & Generation 2030 and SDGs Student Associate, IISD. 

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