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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Following up on Rio+20 – Delivering on land degradation

Conference "Land and soil degradation – post Rio+20", Brussels

16 November 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we approach the end of the first part of this morning’s session, allow me to start by welcoming you again to this Conference. It is a pleasure to see so many eminent experts present here today. We have a very important task. We are here to start painting the first layers of the “future we want”.

The last time we met, in May, I presented the ambitions of the EU at Rio for sustainable land management. Well, although many expected and wanted more from Rio, including myself, we did achieve some notable advances, especially on soil and land.

However, for me, the most important advance remains a broad buy-in of the concept of green economy, with the recognition that our natural resource base underpins the economic and social development of the globe. This has opened the door to stronger global commitment on key issues such as land and soil, but also on water, oceans, biodiversity, ecosystems, forests...

A global transition to a green economy is about making the whole economy more efficient in the use of all resources, and will allow us to reach long lasting results all around.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The 'land-degradation neutral world' target, championed by the EU in Rio+20 and agreed by world leaders, has put the issue of land and soil degradation on the global political map. The EU proposed setting an ambitious but attainable target of ‘zero net rate of land and soil degradation’, with clear intermediate operational goals to minimizing erosion, maintaining and, where possible, increasing soil organic matter, through improved Sustainable Land Management technologies and production systems, and preventing unsustainable and uncontrolled urban expansion.

It is now up to us to take advantage of all the work, positive energy and investment that went into Rio, and transform it into concrete actions. And this is exactly what I want to do today. I want to focus on how we start to deliver on these ambitions, both at EU and at global level.

Our strategy will be based on existing and new instruments, but also on communication and awareness raising at all levels. Because to obtain concrete results we need to start communicating with the world outside this room. Halting land degradation is not the business of the European Commission and governments only. It is everybody’s business, and it will require the commitment and support of all stakeholders, from farmers, to researchers, to civil society. We can introduce comprehensive solutions and reach concrete results only if we work together.

So, what is our strategy?

First, at EU level:

We have already made good progress and we have set the necessary tools in place.

In the coming weeks, the Commission will adopt a proposal for the Seventh Environment Action Programme, which underlines the importance of domestic actions to achieve the 'land-degradation neutral world' target agreed in Rio+20. We will then need to build on these.

I hope that the Seventh Environment Action Programme will also re-open discussions on the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive. We will of course continue to build on the EU Soil Thematic Strategy. However, the Soil Framework Directive would strengthen our action and allow for more harmonised and coherent results.

In 2014, as I already mentioned at our May meeting, I will also put forward a ''Communication on land as a resource''. This will build on existing objectives and milestones set out in the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, the 7th EAP, and the Rio+20 follow-up. And it will aim at raising awareness, on the one hand, on the intrinsic importance of land within the EU and globally, and on the other hand, on the need for the EU to have a coherent and sustainable approach to land use and to ensure that policy formulation is targeted towards that goal.

At international level:

In the first quarter of 2013, the Commission will put forward ideas for the follow up to Rio+20, focusing on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the green economy, as well as on the next framework for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Land and soil degradation is a key area for sustainable development and the 'land-degradation neutral world' target agreed in Rio should be the basis on which to develop an SDG.

In addition we will continue to work at different levels with our international partners. The Rio+20 outcome document encourages and recognizes the importance of partnerships and initiatives for the protection of land resources. In this context, we will continue to support partnerships and initiatives to safeguard soil resources.

Specifically, following the experience with the Stern report for costs of climate change and the TEEB study on the benefits of ecosystems services, the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) initiative is seen as a valuable tool for raising wider awareness of the global economic benefits of healthy and productive land and soil.

As we move forward, it is also critical to improve our understanding of the science and economics of these issues. This is why we are actively supporting new initiatives in this direction, such as FAO's Global Soil Partnership (GSP) and the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) initiative, as well as developing synergies with existing scientific advisory bodies, specifically with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

And lastly, we will continue to pursue and support awareness-raising initiatives on the importance of land and soil also at international level. By supporting initiatives such as FAO's proposal to have 5 December of each year recognised as the ''World Soil Day'' and UNCCD's ''World Day to Combat Desertification Global Observance Event'' every year on 17 June. Or the Global Soil Week organised by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) that will be held in Berlin for the first time next week (19-22 November).

Ladies and gentlemen,

Soil and land degradation is not a stand-alone issue. Better soil and land management can and ought to contribute to food security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and to preserving the natural resource base and fighting biodiversity losses. Stopping or at least strongly diminishing land and soil degradation is just as much about economic growth, poverty eradication and social justice as it is about the environment. It is about a transition to a green economy.

It is true that, in Rio, it was not possible to agree to a set of clear intermediate operational goals to make the 'land-degradation neutral world' target more specific and easily understood by everybody. But, world leaders did agree to recognize the need for urgent action to reverse land degradation and to strive to achieve a ‘land-degradation neutral world’ in the context of sustainable development.

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.” This is a quote from Pablo Picasso, but in many ways it makes me think of the Rio process. The Rio outcome may not have been as ambitious as we hoped, but it has opened a very important door that – with the right energy and commitment - can lead to great results. It is now for us to create the right palette that will allow us to paint that future that we all want.

Thank you.

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