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Andris Piebalgs

EU Commissioner for Development

Address at the High-level Meeting on Addressing Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication

UN's General Assembly High-level meeting

New York, 20 September 2011

I have the honour of speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.

The Candidate Countries Croatia*, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Iceland+, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

We welcome this high level event and the opportunity it provides to give attention to this critical issue facing the global community. The problem of desertification and land degradation is one of the most serious threats to the livelihoods of the poorest people in developing countries today, where subsistence and perspective of improvement are based on the sustainable exploitation of natural resources. It has not only economical and environmental heavy consequences, but also significant political and social impacts.

These problems are not restricted to the developing countries however and have reached a global dimension. Within the EU itself, 12 Member States have declared themselves affected countries with substantial areas already subject to land degradation. With the climatic changes anticipated in the coming decades, there is a serious risk that it will become even more widespread.

In order to address these challenges there is a need for coherent policies, including measures in affected countries, to tackle the issue at an early stage. At the same time we need to recognise that pressures linked to population, food security and water shortages are often drivers of unsustainable land use practices. Addressing land degradation and desertification also has significant benefits, with increased agricultural yields and enhanced ecosystem services.

In their external policies, the EU and its Member States have highlighted the importance of sustainable land management policies which contribute to poverty alleviation and food security in the long term. The EU funds a broad range of actions and programmes to address land degradation in developing countries. These promote sustainable land management techniques, which take into account local and regional conditions and seek to combine traditional knowledge with new and emerging technologies.

Key examples of regional initiatives in Africa are the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), TerrAfrica, the Sub Sahara wide framework promoting sustainable land management, and the Great Green Wall Initiative for the Sahara and the Sahel, which aim to mitigate the risk of desertification while at the same time alleviating poverty.

The importance of land as a key resource has been highlighted in preparations for next year's United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio. Rio+20 offers a unique opportunity to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development. As part of this, investing in sustainable land management is an integral part of achieving a shift to a green economy.

In that context, we are actively supporting the initiative on the economics of land degradation as a means of developing a clearer understanding of the full costs of land degradation. The global study aims to raise awareness of this issue and help policy makers implement effective strategies to address the problem as well as setting out the incentives for private sector investment in sustainable land management policies.

Today environmental and development challenges are inextricably linked. Sustainable land management has become vitally important, representing the 'missing link' to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity. EU funding aims to promote integration on the ground in partner countries. In this respect, the clear shared objectives among the three Rio conventions and the importance of taking coordinated action must be recognized, all the more so in view of the current economic and financial crisis.

As part of our commitment to UNCCD, together with the scientific community and civil society, we are ready to support the knowledge base on desertification and land degradation worldwide and enable affected developing countries to implement national action plans. In this regard, the effective implementation of the 10-Year Strategic plan of the UNCCD is crucial, as is the effective cooperation between Convention bodies.

The EU and its Member States look forward to the forthcoming 10th Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD taking place in Changwon, South Korea next month. Coming at a key moment, less than a year before Rio+20, COP10 is an opportunity for us to establish a new, concerted approach to be able to effectively meet the challenges of desertification and land degradation that the world faces today.

* :

Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

+ Iceland continues to be a member of the EFTA and of the European Economic Area.

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