The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) began on Monday when nine African heads of state attended the opening session of the UN COP15 talks to combat desertification and land degradation that have devastated large parts of the continent in the midst of climate change.
As part of the UNCCD, 196 countries plus the European Union will meet for the first time in three years in Côte d’Ivoire’s Abidjan.
Decades of unsustainable agriculture have depleted soils around the world and accelerated both global warming and species loss, the UNCCD said, with an estimated 40% of land degraded globally.
“Our summit is taking place in the context of the climate emergency, which is having a major impact on our land management policy and exacerbating the drought,” said Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara.
“Our people place great hope in us. We have no right to disappoint them. Let us act quickly, let us act together to give new life to our countries,” he urged.
Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Niger’s Mohamed Bazoum and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi were among the continent’s leaders listening to Ivorian values.
French President Emmanuel Macron would speak at the rally via video conference later in the day.
Ouattara presented the Abidjan initiative to raise $ 1.5 billion over five years to restore Côte d’Ivoire’s “degraded forest ecosystems” and promote sustainable land management.
Ivory Coast is among many African countries that are hard hit by desertification. The forest cover has decreased by 80% since 1900 – from 16 million hectares to only 2.9 million last year.
“At the current rate, our forest could completely disappear by 2050,” Ouattara warned.
COP15 runs until May 20 and will hear new proposals to try to stop the spread of desertification and deteriorating soil quality.
The conference will pay particular attention to the restoration of 1 billion hectares of destroyed land by 2030, future-proof land use and drought resistance, the UNCCD said.
The debate is expected to cover the issue of the “Great Green Wall” program to restore 100 million hectares of dry land from Senegal in West Africa to Djibouti in the east by 2030.
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