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Toepfer at High-level Segment of UNCCD Meeting

Speech by Klaus Toepfer, Director General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Land degradation and desertification are without question among the central issues facing the international community if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals and achieve a just, healthier and more stable world.

The world’s soils are in some ways unique. You can clean up a river or the air. But cleaning up soils is far more difficult.

If you lose soils, it can take centuries if not longer to replace them.

I will not bombard you with statistics on the extent of the problem or the numbers of people affected.

Only to note that UNEP’s latest Africa Environment Outlook says that some 66 per cent of the Continent is classed as desert or drylands.

Currently 46 per cent of Africa’s land area is vulnerable to desertification.

We have similar statistics from Latin America and the Caribbean, from Asia and also from Southern Europe.

In the past environmental issues have been seen as something of a luxury, to be handled when all other issues have been dealt with.

And even when the world has seen fit to address environmental concerns, they have all too often been put in little boxes marked “species’, “water”, “ forests” or “land degradation”.

The reports leading up to the World Summit in New York in September have, I believe, changed that landscape forever.

The Millennium Project, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the report of the Poverty and Environment Partnership make it clear that the environment is the red ribbon running around the Millennium Development Goals.

They also make it clear that the environment is the foundation for economic activity and livelihoods, not an dd on or second thought.

Not a luxury, but the basis for all life on Earth and the life support system of especially the poor.

We need to move from talk to action. We need to move together not in different train carriages running in different directions from where we wave as we pass by.

The Poverty Environment Partnership, a good new example where we have all climbed aboard the same train underlined that targeted investment in ecosystems can pay big dividends.

In respect of land degradation, it asserts that for every dollar invested there can be a three dollar return.

In some parts of the world the cost benefits can be huge.

Whereas in others, the investment is land-friendly features like terracing, ditches or fodder banks can appear more marginal.

There are lost of reasons not least the economic circumstances of local farmers and the international trade regimes and the influence of perverse subsidies whose impact can hit the tiniest village in a Least Developed Country.

So it is vital that we choose the battleground on which we fight the battle against land degradation.

So that we and our donors are confident that this is money well spent in a world competing for funds.

It is also vital that we look at land degradation as both a local issue involving the particular circumstances of local people.

And one driven by global markets and global environmental and development issues.

I understand that quite a few delegates visited a site two hours drive from Nairobi at the weekend.

Here we are implementing the Desert Margin Programme with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

I hope the experience of farmers like Jeremiah Ngaya of the Kamba community was an inspiration.

Living proof that, with the right assistance, fighting land degradation works.

And is playing its part in helping poor farmers thrive and survive during shocks like drought.

In Mali, the programme has shown that planting banks of trees and fodder close the city of Bamako has reduced the pressure on nearby forests.

It has also boosted incomes to $630 a year in a country where the annual average wage is $270.

There are mountains of such case studies that are in desperate need of replicating –of scaling up-- across drylands and desert margins.

What is needed are the funds and the political will to do much more.

So I welcome the new TerrAfrica initiative which will be formally launched this afternoon and of which UNEP is part.

It aims to leverage some $4 billion over the coming years in the cause of land degradation.

Working together is THE game in town. Days of little discreet boxes must end

So we must bring the different conventions closer because so many have a stake in land degradation.

Climate change is impacted by land degradation and climate change will aggravate the problem.

So I was delighted to learn that, last week, the first two schemes under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol were approved. One in Central America and one in Asia.

Both these first two were for hydroelectric schemes but both have a link with land degradation.

By reducing the need for fuel wood, they should help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce erosion by conserving forests.

The board of the Clean Development Mechanism are now working on the guidelines for re-afforestation and afforrestation projects.

These in turn offer another new way of helping both the climate and the land of developing countries.

The link is also there with biodiversity.

If land degradation continues, the targets and timetables from the World Summit on Sustainable Development agreed in 2002—to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity-- will be harder to achieve.

Meanwhile, the loss of so called below ground diversity—for example worms, beetles and bugs—can have a direct impact on the health and fertility of the soils.

The Desert Margin Programme addresses this issue as does an even wider initiative, also funded by GEF, underway in developing countries in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.

There are also links between land degradation and other critical issues such as water and the empowerment women and reducing the spread of diseases.

A few weeks ago UNEP held a brainstorming at the London School of Economics with representatives of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

We also had leading environmental economists like Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University.

Delegates recognized that economic instruments such as incentives, tradeable quotas, payments for ecosystem service and so on, must be pro-poor in their focus.

I think everyone accepted that we need now to pilot implementation projects that harness the collective strengths and influence of the MEAs so that together we can make poverty history and sustainable development a reality.

One being considered is for Lake Victoria. Land degradation and desertification should be part and must be a part of such pilots.

One of the main barriers to better valuing ecosystems and their services—for example the nutrient recycling of soils-has been that these services have tended to be free and without value in a traditional economic sense.

UNEP is now testing complimentary methods of environmental accounting that quantify and value so called ‘free’ environmental ecosystem services in five West African dryland countries.

I invite other partners to become involved.

Again we are stronger and more cost effective together.

We are more able to assist countries in their national action plans to fight land degradation by offering common solutions to multiple environmental threats.

Under UNEP’s newly approved Bali Strategic Plan for Capacity Building and Technology Support, we have new opportunities to assist countries on the national level and respond to their requests.

UNEP, which now has a blossoming new partnership with the UN Development Programme, is also working to on pilots to mainstream the environment in national poverty reduction strategies in seven African countries.

Again a problem shared is a problem halved.

UNEP has over 30 years involvement with the issue of desertification. This has included organizing the 1977 UN Conference on Desertification, and supporting the development of the 1994 UNCCD.

Our subsequent support for the implementation of the Convention has been mainly through global environmental assessments, the development and implementation of projects, especially through GEF-support, and policy support to regional, sub-regional and national action plans for combating desertification.

UNEP’s 22nd Governing Council recommended to the United Nations general Assembly to declare an international year on desertification.

We will continue our efforts during this forthcoming International Year of Deserts and Desertification by launching our Global Environmental Outlook for Deserts report.

We will be also co-organizing next June’s international conference on “The Future of Drylands” in Tunisia, led by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization in partnership with other UN agencies.

We must build further on these and the many other partnerships that need to be forged if we are to finally overcome the many pressing environmental issues of our time.

Issues like land degradation affect us all. A recent report by the United Nations University estimates that some 50 million environmental refugees may soon be with us as a result of multiple factors including land degradation.

You can see the choices facing us in Kenya. In northern Kenya, in Marsabit, there have been tragic conflicts between communities battling for scarce natural resources in dry, fragile lands.

And there is the Kamaba community and the smiling courageous face of people like Mr Ngaya.

Together we can put more smiles on more faces across the world’s desert margins and drylands. That’s our goal.