KEY NOTE SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TARJA HALONEN
AT THE WORLD DAY TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION
BEIJING, CHINA, 17 JUNE 2016
Distinguished Minister Zhang Jianlong, Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, dear Friends,
It is a great honor and pleasure to be here with you today as we observe the World Day to Combat Desertification.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to our hosts, the State Forest Authority, for the warm welcome and excellent arrangements of this global event. This offers us a great opportunity to share information and strengthen concrete measures to advance Land Degradation Neutrality. I am convinced that the Belt and Road Join Action Initiative to Combat Desertification will make an important contribution to our common goal.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The global challenges and their solutions are closely interlinked and depend also very much on the sustainable management of our land resources. Land is one of our most precious resources for development, and therefore we have to take care of it.
The facts tell, however, that more than 40% of the earth’s land area is arid and more than half of it is degraded. Also more than half of the agricultural land is degraded.
In addition, in less than fifteen years from now, people on this planet will need 45 % more food, 30% more water and 50% more energy. These challenges are multiplied by the increasing impacts of climate change.
It is important to remind all of us, that poverty eradication is still our most demanding challenge. Poor people live mostly in the dry, degraded lands with the least resources.
I am convinced that we will able to eradicate poverty by 2030, as we were able to half the share of poor people well before 2015.
The recent positive developments stem from a comprehensive understanding of the problems and the solutions required. As a Dry Lands Ambassador, I am convinced that sustainable land management can offer a good tool for meeting the challenges I have referred to above.
Last year, we witnessed many positive developments. The United Nations adopted the New Sustainable Development Goals, which include conservation and restoration of land and Land Degradation Neutrality as well as combating climate change. The goals also include food security, availability of clean water, good health and well-being, as well as decent work and gender equality, just to mention the most interlinked ones.
Adoption of the Paris Climate agreement in December was another remarkable commitment by 196 Governments to address the climate change and to make a turning point towards a climate neutral and a resilient world. To these positive high lights we have to add also the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Addis Ababa Agenda on Financing Development.
These developments will contribute to poverty eradication, strengthen the resilience of societies, prevent migration and help in solving and pre-empting conflicts.
They have created a positive momentum also for combating desertification. The recent Conference of Parties of the Convention to Combat Desertification already took the first steps towards Land Degradation Neutrality. I am very encouraged that a process of setting concrete targets and measures is under way.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The achievement of Land Degradation Neutrality could indeed, contribute effectively to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 – not least to poverty eradication, ensuring food security, the availability of clean water, improving health and combating climate change.
Improvement of food security and the availability of water are also very important to the improvement of nutrition and health of women and girls. These issues are now very close to my heart as I am acting as the alternate co-chair of the UN initiative Every Women Every Child. We work in particular for the improvement of the health situation of women and girls and adolescents.
Land Degradation Neutrality requires slowing the rate of land degradation, but also rehabilitation of degraded land. Results will be successful and lasting if the participation of people and their social conditions are improved. The environmental, social and economic measures need to support each other.
We are all very encouraged by the land restoration efforts in Africa. Excellent examples include for example Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Nigeria. Considerable areas of land have been rehabilitated, land tenure improved, food security increased and jobs and income created. I am also very interested to learn about the plans for the Wall and Road initiative of China.
These examples show the multiple effects of sustainable land management. Sustainable land management will be the best way to eradicate rural poverty, as most of the poor people live in degraded lands. It will provide good opportunities for decent work and income. The improved well-being of families will also provide access to education and health care. All these will also contribute to overall national economic growth.
In addition to the positive social and economic developments, sustainable land management will be the key to environmental improvements. It will contribute to strengthening the biodiversity and maintaining water resources.
We have not yet paid sufficient attention to the potential positive impacts of healthy soil in combating climate change. By developing agricultural methods to be regenerative and climate friendly, we could reduce emissions by 20%. The carbon fixation capacity of soil could be increased by 30 % by sustainable land management and restoration of land.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These improvements need to be studied very carefully and concrete action is needed, as the necessary methods are already available. These methods do not require such advanced technology or major investments as is required for example in the field of renewable energy and infrastructure in combating climate change.
However, reaching out to small farmers might take time and extensive efforts. Strengthening the participation of women in planning and implementing sustainable land management would improve the results considerably as women constitute the majority of small farmers.
It will be of utmost importance that the knowledge and experience of both men and women is used. When we recognize that women are needed as agents of change at all levels, we should understand that women also should have an equal right to act for change.
If we want to tackle land degradation efficiently and sustainably, we need to ensure that women and girls have equal access, among other things, to education, health, justice, land tenure, economic activities and technology.
Despite the major role of women in agriculture in developing countries, they generally don’t have appropriate and fair access to production inputs. It has been estimated that if women had equal access to these inputs, the productivity in agriculture would increase by 2 to 4 %, reducing the total number of hungry people by 100 to150 million annually.
Applying gender perspective to rehabilitation and restoration of degraded land is vital also due to the different ways that women and men use land. Women are often smallholders; they rely on non-timber forest products and agriculture for household food security.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to conclude by drawing your attention to the theme of our Global Day. It is “Protect Earth, Restore Land and Engage People”. It signifies, in particular the importance of engaging people to achieve land degradation neutrality.
As a former president of Finland, I am fully aware of, and believe in the people’s great potential to improve their environment, social security and economic situation.
The greening efforts of China remind me of an old Chinese wisdom, “Even a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a first step”. The successful land restoration stories of Great Green Wall would not have been possible if there was no first step by communities and people engaged in it.
I am convinced that, the challenging desertification and land degradation problems in China and around the world can find solutions through people’s engagement.
I thank you.