« Takaisin uutisiin

Welcome address by President Tarja Halonen at the Third UNCCD Scientific Conference on March 9, 2015, Cancún, Mexico

Distinguished Chairman Uriel SAFRIEL, (Chair of the UNCCD Committee on Science and Technology),
General Director of the National Forestry Commission Jorge RESCALA PEREZ,
Governor Roberto BORGE ANGULO
Dear Executive Secretary of UNCCD Monique BARBUT,


Dear Participants,

It is a great honor to be here with you at this scientific conference as it focuses on the key issues of sustainable development.

I would like to thank Mexican authorities for their very warm welcome and for hosting this important event. I hope that Cancun will inspire us all to sharpen our vision and achieve good results.

This conference addresses crucial challenges for the wellbeing of people and our planet: poverty eradication, combating desertification and climate change. These elements of sustainable development are closely linked at three levels concerning their causes, impacts and solutions.  Therefore it is important to tackle them in a comprehensive way. Your scientific work, conclusions and recommendations will play a most important role in advising decision-makers.

The impacts of our behavior exceed now the global boundaries as we consume natural resources over their renewing capacity.  We have crossed four of the nine planetary boundaries, which are namely climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered phosphorous and nitrogen cycles.

The bold facts tell that more than 40% of the earth’s land is arid, and more than half of it is already degraded. Also 52 % of the agricultural land is moderately or severely degraded.

Population growth will set growing demands to the productive capacity of the land. In 2030, less than fifteen years from now, people will need 45% more food, 30% more water and 50% more energy. More than 1,5 billion people live on arid and semi-arid lands now, and almost half of the world’s poorest people live on degraded land.

This means that limited access of productive resources will further cause increasing poverty. In addition to this, growing effects of climate change will lead to increasing droughts and land degradation. Both the impacts of climate change and land degradation will hit hardest the poorest people.

We have to act now and address the causes of these three developments simultaneously so that the counter measures support each other. Land degradation must be slowed down and degraded land has to be restored for agricultural and pastoral purposes. This would support effectively the eradication of poverty and combating climate change.


Mr. Chairman,

When we look for available resources, we should not underestimate the untapped human resources. By this I mean women, youth and poor. The majority of the world’s poor are women. Also the majority of the agricultural labor force and small farmers are women. In Africa, women produce 80 % of the stable food; in Asia the figure is 60%.

I would underline that women are not a problem but they can provide good solutions in sustainable land management. Women must be included in the planning and implementing of the agricultural extension.  They must be ensured equal access to the financial resources and their needs have to be taken in to account in the technology development. Particularly important is the right to own and inherit land.


Dear participants,

This year is the year to seize these challenges when we are finalizing and adopting the Sustainable Development Goals in September at the United Nations.

The UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability prepared for the Rio +20 Summit, (and I had the great pleasure of chairing it.) I am very pleased that the Summit adopted our proposal on the preparation of the sustainable development goals, as I am convinced that the Millennium Development Goals have had a great impact on the development in the last 15 years. We can be proud that the most important Millennium Development Goals including the halving of extreme poverty have been met.

It was most rewarding to co-chair the Millennium Summit in 2000 when we adopted the Millennium Declaration, and I can assure you that it was a most memorable experience. The Summit offered a truly unique opportunity to find ways to respond to the global challenges. I hope that we can repeat that again next autumn and share our vision and commit to taking care of the globe and its people in a more sustainable way forward to 2030.


Mr. Chairman,

Poverty eradication will be our main goal still until 2030. The best way to end rural poverty is the sustainable land management. That will also play a vital role in combating climate change. Land is also a most valuable asset in economic development. In many countries, sustainable land management and agriculture could form an important part of growth.

Sustainable land management is also needed for food security and long-term stability of the food prices. It will provide livelihoods and decent work. It is also indispensable in restoring the water resources and biological diversity. So it will support all three: economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

At the Rio+20 Conference, the Governments committed already “to strive to achieve land-degradation neutral world in the context of the sustainable development”.  This goal has to be included among the goals, which the UN will adopt next September, too. It would make mere economic sense, as we have already the tools and methods to make the degradation neutrality to work. Your research results indicate, that all the necessary methods are available and they are not expensive compared for instance with those concerning renewable energies or transportation.

You have developed conservative and regenerative agricultural methods, agro forestry and other means. We have also positive experiences of restoring the degraded land.  A total of 2 billion hectares, more than the size of South America, of degraded land waits for restoration.

In addition to advising on the preventing the land degradation and restoring it, you can make a great contribution to monitoring the developments. Land degradation has to be included also in the development of the indicators, which reflect the progress on the agreed goals.


Mr. Chairman,

The Conference of Parties of UNCCD will meet this autumn. That meeting would then provide a great opportunity to the Governments to consider the land degradation neutrality in more detailed way and the means to achieve it. A road map for this goal has to be developed.

Finally, the Governments will meet in Paris this December to adopt a new legally binding climate agreement. Combating land degradation and developing sustainable agriculture must be firmly included in the toolbox of managing climate change.

This scientific conference will consider, in particular, the role of sustainable land management in building resilience and adaptation to climate change. Adaptation is a necessary element of climate change management despite all mitigation actions: it needs careful attention, financial support, means and technology as well as capacity building.

We should not, however, underestimate the role of sustainable land management in mitigation of the climate change. We are talking here of a very complex and politically difficult issue, which can provide a huge potential.  By changing the agricultural methods we could cut 20% of the emissions. The carbon sequestration capacity by soil increased by sustainable land management could be some 30%.

I would stress once again, that these tools are already available and they are low cost investment. We could use similar models for sustainable agriculture and land management as in the REDD+ mechanism  (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). Similar result-based compensation could be used in sustainable agriculture.

I am convinced that, if we communicate these scientific facts and the good examples to the responsible decision-makers, we can definitely agree on making the necessary commitments.  We should prepare already for the concrete work of implementing the land degradation neutrality. It should be a natural part of the sustainable economic development plans, climate adaptation and mitigation planning and National Action Plans of the UNCCD.

Co-operation with most powerful multilateral development partners like the UNDP, World Bank and Regional Development Banks should be sought.

Your advice will be indispensable in the implementation. We know already the major trends and their interlink ages. Now the work should concentrate more on the regional and national situations and providing advice for concrete cases.

I had already the possibility of meeting most of you two years ago in Bonn. A lot has happened since then, and I would encourage you to continue your important efforts in promoting the land degradation neutrality. It will be too precious tool to be left aside, when we combat the poverty and climate change. Your contribution to strengthen the understanding of the decision makers of the huge ecological, economic and social benefits of the land degradation neutrality will be indispensable. We need diologue on these benefits and your role In this dialogue will be great.

It will also help in preventing the destabilization of societies, migration and conflicts, as many of today’s conflicts are related with control of natural resources. Hunger and lack of water will also increase the risk of radicalization and extremism. Reversing land degradation and restoration of land will support the wellbeing of people, stability of societies and strengthen peace.