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Summary of proceedings for Rio Conventions Pavilion UNCCD COP 12 - 22 October 2015: Land’s Role in Climate Mitigation Day

Land’s Role in Climate Mitigation Day began with a Global Land Outlook (GLO) steering committee meeting where ideas were discussed about how to move the flagship publication forward. The GLO will be published every four years and will provide analyses of how sustainable land management will be put into action around the world to reach land degradation neutrality (LDN). Ian Johnson, Senior Advisor to GLOBE International and Sasha Alexander of the UNCCD led the meeting, which effectively brought together many active and interested organisational representatives who collaborated to propel work along its journey to its first publication.

In the evening, Patrice Burger, Director of the civil society organization (CSO) Centre d'Actions et de Réalisations InternationaIes (CARI) hosted the event “Land and Climate: What CSOs Claim”. The festivities centered around DESERTIF’ACTIONS 2015, which was a civil society international forum dedicated to land degradation and combating desertification held in Montpellier, France in June. CARI, which hosted and organized the forum also created a movie titled Land and Climate: Time to Act!, which they screened in the Rio Conventions Pavilion before a large, engrossed audience.

CSO leaders in the area of land degradation and desertification spoke in the film. For example, Marcos Montoiro, Civil Society Liaison Officer of the UNCCD said, “We always think about the problem, but solutions exist.” Other speakers expressed that CSOs need to speak up and talk with the UN conventions about their practical experiences in the field in order to communicate what works and what does not. Yet another CSO leader drew attention to the fact that associations are working in a partnership and that development cannot happen individually, as you must have more people moving forward. Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD attended DESERTIF’ACTIONS 2015 and was interviewed in the film. She said that you have to be blind to not see the direct links between the most degraded lands and social perturbations. Barbut went on to say that people are beginning to realise this now.

After the film, short pieces of the Montpellier Declaration were highlighted by representatives of GEF, the French Fund on Global Environment, Sahel & Sahara Observatory (OSS), UNCCD, Drynet, Desertification Sahel Network (ReSaD) and the CSOs panel of the UNCCD.  French Environmental Ambassador, Xavier Sticker, highlighted the need to ensure that all rights are preserved for all people when dealing with land. He insists on supporting the message from the Montpellier Declaration about FAO volunteering guidelines on land tenure. Niger’s Minister of the Environment, Chaiffou Adamou talked about the collective effort CARI is doing. He went on to say that the situation in Niger is dire and desertification must be abated, especially because land degradation is a cause of poverty, migration and insecurity. He further highlighted Niger’s national objective to rehabilitate 200,00 hectares by 2030.

Rol Reiland, Chair of the Working Party on Desertification in Luxembourg, said Ankara is on the way to Paris; referencing that many high-level decision makers and Ministers who are attending and influencing the UNCCD COP12 will also be in Paris at the UNFCCC COP21 this December. He emphasized to participants that they should “Take out their tam tams” and make sure that these  decisionmakers hear the message that land is important in mitigating climate change. Jean Luis Merega, Executive Director of  Fundación del Sur added that the CSO community recently organized an open dialogue on the high level segment at UNCCD COP12, which generated ideas on how we should deal with issues of land rights and land grabbing. Burger summed up the discussion by saying the civil society voice has been heard because of many types of organizations at all levels supporting them. Thereafter, he introduced his five person team who work at CARI.

The evening changed pace with a networking cocktail reception, where participants chatted as they gazed intriguingly at an exhibition of  cartoons centered around the theme of land and climate that were entered in a drawing contest at DESERTIF’ACTIONS 2015. The day ended with guests drifting from the last day of the Rio Conventions Pavilion to the nearby traditional Turkish Dervish Dancing show organized by civil society organizations.



Summary of proceedings for Rio Conventions Pavilion UNCCD COP 12 - 21 October 2015: Sustainable Land Management Day

The Soil Leadership Academy started off Sustainable Land Management Day with interactive simulation exercises and a session with delegates to the parliamentarians’ roundtable. Later in the morning, the Restoration Kiosk organized by the World Agroforestry Centre engaged participants with a comfortable atmosphere. This session was led by Ermias Betemariam and Madelon Lohbeck of the World Agroforestry Centre, Chris Reij a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, and other experts. The relaxed atmosphere facilitated informal discussions between restoration scientists and participants concerning the newest tools and methods for the characterization and assessment of land degradation and restoration opportunities. Participants seemed to gather a full spectrum of understanding of restoration from the experts as they chatted with one another and asked pointed questions while pouring over fact-filled brochures.

Over lunchtime Mr. Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary of the CBD, discussed ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction with emphasis on experiences at country and regional level.  Fidaa Haddad of IUCN emphasised Jordan’s vulnerability to climate change and how rising temperatures will accelerate desertification through increased evaporation, as well as shrinking groundwater and grasslands. She emphasised the need for concerted legislative efforts to combat desertification. Barbara Thompson, Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, spoke about the multiple benefits of ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation and pointed out the win-win outcomes of forest conservation and wetland restoration, which contribute to climate change mitigation. If action is not taken, Thompson warned that the impacts would be felt increasingly by communities and economies around the world.

After lunch, the Soil Leadership Academy held its final workshops within its COP12 simulation workshop program launch. Organizational leaders were guided through the decision-making process to achieve LDN in their own country or business, using an interactive simulation tool that enabled them to choose an implementation path catering to their needs, context and priorities. Presentations were made by ELD, Leeds University, CGIAR, FAO, WRI, the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, IUCN and the UNCCD Secretariat.

Thereafter, a networking cocktail reception began the session on scaling up SLM and related investment in Sub Saharan Africa. Findings of the stocktaking of lessons learned from the Terrafrica/Strategic Investment Program (SIP) for SLM were presented and up-scaling of SLM investment in Africa was promoted. Implemented by 26 countries through 36 projects, with 6 multilateral agencies and over $1 billion in financing including GEF support, SIP is now ending. Organized by the World Bank, GEF, NEPAD, and FAO, the event discussed the main outcomes of a recent lessons stocktaking study. Presentations by SLM/TerrAfrica focal points from Burundi, Senegal, and Swaziland explained these countries’ lessons learned, experiences, progress, impacts and opportunities for leveraging a nationwide SLM scaling up process then took place.



Summary of proceedings for Rio Conventions Pavilion UNCCD COP 12 - 20 October 2015: Ecosystem Restoration Day

Ecosystem Restoration Day was opened by Dennis Garrity who talked about how the global community is mobilizing around the Bonn Challenge, the New York Summit Declaration, and the Land Degradation Neutrality SDG target to restore hundreds of millions of hectares of degraded lands. RB Sinha highlighted the importance of restoration efforts in India. The session highlighted key developments in building momentum around these efforts by strengthening partnerships and investmentment opportunities. Garrity discussed the 20x20 Latin America Restoration Initiative, which is committed to restoring 20 million hectares of land by 2020, and has restored 37 million hectares in the last 15 years. Pedro Lara of the Global Mechanism (GM) presented key messages for public policy makers on sustainable financing for forest and landscape restoration (FLR). Information on Forest and Landscape Restoration can be found here. CEO Peter Bakker said he and many private sector CEOs are not yet familiar with LDN. Going further, he explained business is at the start of the journey to LDN, so they must understand LDN and scale up solutions. Bakker encouraged the audience to read Land Degradation Neutrality: Issue Brief for Business.

The opening was followed by a session about the African forest and landscape restoration, which highlighted current efforts to accelerate effective approaches to supporting country-led  efforts to develop and realize restoration commitments. Landscape resilience in Africa was discussed by Magda Lovei of TerrAfrica, who said that Africa is the world’s largest restoration opportunity, and many African countries are committed to restoring a lot of land.  Jonathan Davies of the Global Drylands Initiative, IUCN spoke on the restoration of pastoral lands and cautioned that governments sometimes too hastily plant trees on well-managed pastoral lands in the name of restoration. He emphasized that pastoralists are a great group to approach as restoration allies.

Debbie Bossio of CGIAR said that 50 percent of soil organic carbon has been lost: a sink waiting to be filled that could increase food security. She went further to say adaptation, food security, and climate mitigation are all improved through Climate Smart Agriculture. Ermias Betemariam of ICRAF then discussed land health surveillance and agroforestry in support of land restoration in Africa. Additionally, Clinton Muller explained how communities are responsible for the land and introduced the concept of LandCare. “When we think about community involvement, we have to think about hard, as well as soft skills”, he said, “as the social structure, norms, networks and trust must be considered in order for the project to be sustained long-term.”

A session organized by the Convention on Biological Diversity then followed, emphasizing the importance of leveraging social programmes with socio-economic objectives for the conservation and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems. Kwangho Baek from Korea’s National Reforestation Program said Korea’s government has been transparent by explaining mistakes they have made, learning lessons and implementing best practices. Luvuyo Mlilo of the Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programme of the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa said that job creation is key to his country’s restoration success. He mentioned that South Africa also focuses on the environmental education of youth, and that it is sending the message to its people that unless they take care of the land, it will degrade.

Several FAO colleagues presented topics concerning advances in tree cover mapping and monitoring for restoration. Lars Laestidius of WRI focused on the importance of land cover mapping, while Nora Berrahmouni of FAO discussed forest and landscape tools for restoration in degraded farmlands. Madelon Lohbeck from ICRAF pointed out that planting trees is only part of restoration, and that it is important to figure out exactly how degraded the land is, then fit the restoration strategy to the land type.

The day closed with a presentation by WRI’s Chris Reij, who spoke about the specific steps to regreening and shared several great restoration stories from Ethiopia, Niger, Mali, Malawi and Burkina Faso. He said that the people of Ethiopia have moved at least 90 million tons of earth to restore their slopes in order to allow more water absorption and that a very important part of getting farmers to adopt restoration practices is for them to hear best practices directly from successful farmers in similar landscapes.

Following the talks, participants were invited to a attend a cocktail reception and film viewing of the outstanding restoration documentary “Ethiopia Rising!”



Summary of proceedings for Rio Conventions Pavilion UNCCD COP 12 - 19 October 2015: Land for Life Day 

Land for Life Day was opened by Rajeb Boulharouf, Chef de Cabinet of the UNCCD, who stressed the importance of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN).  Further remarks were made by Erdoǧan Özevren, Turkey’s National Focal point to the UNCCD, who said Turkey has sent a simple message to its people: Don’t let Turkey become desert. Dennis Garrity, Dryland Ambassador drew attention to the idea of land being a community of which humans are a part. He went further by saying while humans have a rich system of ethics to govern how we deal with one another, our ethics concerning the land are still in a very primitive state. His position is that there will be no change concerning land until communities come together to make change themselves. Communities are indeed the key to achieving a land degradation world.

The opening was followed by a sharing session with this year’s Land for Life Award Winners - SEKEM and Elion. These prize winners represent the very best in sustainable land management practices. Elion shared a movie showcasing the transformation of 10,000 km² of the Kabuqi desert in China - a green plateau several hundred years ago-- back into a lush forest area where communities now flourish. Afterward, SEKEM’s Chief Sustainable Development Officer, Maximillian Abouleisch-Boes described the organization’s exceptional restoration work of desert areas in Egypt. He said there is a lot of land that can be reclaimed in Egypt, which is important because the population doubles every 20 years. He stressed that local and international partnerships helped SEKEM succeed by sharing the risk.

An interactive open forum session featured experts in sustainable land management (SLM) sharing their views on how to engage all stakeholders during implementation of SLM work. Associate Professor Barış Karapınar, CEO of the Turkish Foundation to Combat Soil Erosion (TEMA Foundation), says the organization uses various media, including social media engagement, on a daily basis to reach out to stakeholders and political groups involved in SLM, which has seen great success.  Abouleisch-Boes from SEKEM explains how the private enterprise engages farmers in Egypt by helping them access markets and show the long term financial benefit of adopting SLM. Mark Schauer of the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) initiative says the ELD makes the knowledge of experts available to all stakeholders via online resources, such as online courses that address many different sectors. Yukie Hori of the UNCCD made the point that it is important to directly involve leaders of stakeholder groups in order to mobilize large groups of people to get the attention of policymakers.

The audience was then treated to a discussion with film Director John Liu over lunch.  Liu was the 2011 Green Screen Award winner, recognised for his experience in ground filming.  He shared a clip of his film Forests Keep Drylands Working, which carries a powerful message for the public to understand existing approaches that can be used to combat desertification and land degradation. A particular point Liu stressed is we must align human behaviors with natural systems, because we cannot try to manipulate natural systems and simply hope everything will be okay. He went on to say that biotic systems are more valuable than anything that has been or ever will be made, bought or sold.

The afternoon rolled on with TED Talk style presentations answering the question, “Is LDN compelling and achievable?”  Three SLM experts,  Marioldy Sánchez Santivanez, Head Department of Planning Monitoring of Association for Research and Integrated Development (AIDER), Dennis Garrity and Willem Ferwerda, Chief Executive Officer of Commonland talked about LDN.  During her talk, Sánchez Santivanez spoke about how to put LDN into practice. She included that forming partnerships is very important to do upfront, as well as taking time to plan before jumping into action. Thereafter, Garrity explained that future agricultural lands will be managed better, as they will incorporate climate smart agriculture, which will increase resilience and carbon sequestration. He feels LDN is achievable because many large scale restorations, such as that in the Sahel region, have already succeeded.  In the next talk, Ferwerda emphasized that the conversation needs to be about people: land degradation occurs because of soil degradation, he said. Moreover, he explained that the economic sector is finally listening to issues about land, but scientists need to talk to these investors about jobs and money instead of about abstract ideas, such as soil fertility.

Participants then heard from past as well as and present Land for Life Award winners. Lucia Madrid of CCMSS, a Mexican NGO that won the Land for Life Award in 2013, spoke about the importance of empowering communities managing resources and land. Madrid explained that local communities should control the region’s resources because they are the ones who will stay in the region long term and that when resources are managed well, it positively affects the whole community.

The day wound down with a relaxed networking session, as participants chatted with SLM experts over hor d'oeuvres and refreshments.



Summary of proceedings for Rio Conventions Pavilion UNCCD COP 12 - 16 October 2015: Gender Day - United Nations Decade for Desert and the Fight against Desertification Inter-agency Taskforce

From the opening speeches to the closure of the day, the resounding message was that achievement of Land Degradation Neutrality and the Sustainable Development Goals requires the empowerment of women.  At the opening, the Executive Secretary to the UNCCD said women are central to sustainable land management and all must be done to empower them.  The Ambassador of Finland added, “women are needed as agents of change at all levels and women must have equal rights to be able to act as agents of change.”  The Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia reiterated his country’s commitment to women’s empowerment.  In her inspiring speech, Pervin Sarvan, a Yoruk woman from Turkey, passionately reminded all of what is at stake.

Following the keynotes, a panel organised by FAO explored the current and changing situation for women and land rights.  Research from the University of Greenwich showed the need for context-specific policies that recognise women’s rights. Capacity-strengthening for women and women leaders is also needed for men and local authorities in order to change perceptions.  IFAD showed that rights and arrangements are different across spaces and times, implying that policy development should reflect and build on local successes rather than being prescribed from above.  There is still a need for a systematic analysis of success factors however.  A presentation on the experience in India of working with over 2 million women to develop an entrepreneurial culture showed business skills development is an important way to empower women and assist in securing land rights. FAO outlined their indicator development project for gender and rights in the context of the SDGs.  Legal, ownership and agricultural information is being collected, but gaps exist for sex disaggregated data.

The next discussion organised by UNDP- and WOCAN- concerned “Women and Resilience to Climate Change,” and showed the important role of women in managing drylands resources as they provide for their families’ livelihoods in the face of a changing climate.  The concept of resilience helps us understand how people can recover from shocks in the short term and live sustainably in the long term. Social and environmental change are distinct and should not be conflated.  To build women’s resilience, we need to strengthen customary institutions while challenging constraining social norms.  There is a need for better representation of women in decision making and better distribution of resources and outcomes. Gender justice should be pursued in an interlinked way. A review of UNDP projects in Morocco and Tunisia showed the value of mainstreaming gender into projects and increasing the voice of women.  These were good examples of the policy/practice interface that can advance women’s empowerment in drylands, but it takes time to produce results.

After lunch, Land Degradation Neutrality was reviewed through the lens of gender.  A UNEP review of gender in the Rio Conventions recommended building capacity at the secretariats –gender plans for the secretariats themselves, appointment of sufficiently-resourced senior programme officers and the development of a joint gender plan of action. The benefits of the latter include reducing reporting burden for Parties and systematic capacity building for secretariat staff and national focal points.   IUCN’s experience in developing a gender analysis tool and deploying it for project development and implementation showed its value.  Lessons learned from projects in Jordan and India included the importance of adapting methodologies to fit local context.  A review of women’s involvement in a watershed programme in India showed that employing women as facilitators and social mobilizers had benefits.  Leadership development of women was also developed.  Women’s empowerment is a long process, but it must be sustained to produce results. 

A dialogue panel with representatives from the UN system, local organizations, research institutions and civil society looked at the active involvement of women in decision-making.  Participants suggested strengthening women’s voices in policy processes at all levels.  Institutional barriers and practical requirements currently prevent women’s participation and leadership; therefore, changing behaviour will require capacity-strengthening for both women and for men.  There is also need to strengthen the policy framework for women in governance.  Decentralized governance offers an opportunity to do this, but sensitivity to context and existing political structures is key, particularly in rural areas.  Development funding needs mechanisms to ensure that resources go to women.

Sakhile Koketso of the CBD secretariat led a wrap up session of the day that looked at the ways that the panels discussed policy, institutions and capacity-building.

The Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia closed the meeting and thanked the participants for their hard work.  He indicated that he would be honoured if we continued the work begun at COP-11 beyond today, not only as a legacy, but also to uplift women around the world.