Establishing a New International Cooperation Mechanism
for Global Desertification Control
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Former Prime Minister of Spain
I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me to the Fifth Kubuqi International Desert Forum.
It is a consolidated forum, a global reference. The only forum dedicated to the development of the desert ecological civilization and the first International Desert Forum worldwide.
Let me, then, congratulate the promotors of this initiative.
There are powerful reasons that explain why this Forum takes place here in Kubuqi, in Inner Mongolia.
China has made a tremendous effort to stop desertification in the Kubuqi desert.
The Elion Resource Group has deservedly received the UN “Global Dry Land Champion” award for its work, for the forestation of more than 5,000 square kilometers.
China, the new global superpower, has committed itself to leading the way in the construction of ecological civilization. This is a very good piece of news for us all.
Because there will be no future for our civilization without sustainability. There will be no future without decisive and cooperative environmental policies.
There will be no future, no progress, if we do not deal with climate change with determination, with effective agreements.
There will be no future, no progress, if we do not act against the deterioration of biodiversity.
There will be no future, no progress, if we do not fight desertification together and do not take a stand to preserve and regenerate deserts.
There will be no future, no possibility of eradicating world hunger, without comprehensive ecological policies.
We have reached a stage in our civilization when progress will only happen if we change the way we relate to water, to land, to the emissions we produce, to biodiversity.
In the same way, Development must not distance itself from the fight against poverty.
These are the two great challenges of our times: the fight to defend the environment and the fight against poverty.
Fortunately, the international community isn't starting from scratch on these two issues. There is a nearly thirty year-long history.
In 1983, the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development.
In 1992, the momentous Earth Summit in Rio paved the way for decisive international conventions:
a. The Convention on Biodiversity that came into effect in December 1993.
b. The Climate Change Convention, which entered into force in March 1994.
c. The Desertification Convention, adopted in Paris in 1994 and that entered into force in 1996.
d. And of course the Kyoto Protocol, approved a year later.
At the start of this century, in the year 2000, the Millennium Goals were set to eradicate extreme poverty in the fields of Education, Health, Clean Water and Gender Equality.
I would like to dwell on three aspects linked to the two great challenges of our times, as I just mentioned: the fight against poverty and the fight for the environment:
1. The International Community's aspirations have merged to such a point that the two will be enshrined together in a new global commitment in the September 2015 UN General Assembly.
2. The UN has been the main agent of both processes, although we must also recognize that the determination of superpowers, like China, will be decisive to pull down this barrier.
3. The only way forward is through a strong international cooperation. These challenges are global. We can't justify political barriers because Nature doesn't know barriers.
In particular, when we consider Environmental Preservation, Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification are the pillars on which we have to build the structure that will preserve our ecosystem.
The health of land, air, water, of species...and our health are one and indivisible, a global ecosystem.
Let me tell you a little bit about my country, Spain. As you know, it belongs to the Northern Mediterranean region, one that was precisely included, at the initiative of Spain, in the Convention to Combat Desertification, in Annex IV.
18% of Spain's surface area is at high or very high risk of desertification and 20% at medium risk.
The reforestation activity in Spain has reached to date more than five million hectares, which represents the restoration of 10% of our national territory.
Spain has been a pioneer in desertification evaluation and follow-up initiatives and continues to contribute new elements that are benchmarks for the international community.
Let me refer to some initiatives adopted in my country.
The Project to Fight Desertification in the Mediterranean
The creation of a National Inventory on Land
The creation of an Early Warning System on desertification risks.
The creation of a Map on land condition in Spain.
The National Action Program against Desertification that was approved during my Presidency, the year before we hosted the Eighth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Spain is one of the main contributors to the Convention's funds.
We particularly support the Latin America and Caribbean region, for example with the Water Fund, created in 2007, that has mobilized up to 1.7 billion dollars to take clean water to 3 million people.
Spain has thus a recognized experience in the field of desertification and is eager to offer its experience and technical skills to the international community in such an important forum, as Kubuqi.
However, despite the importance of national commitments, international cooperation is the key field for fighting against desertification. And it is important to acknowledge that not all the dimensions of this global ecosystem have been given the same attention. The health of land is maybe the one that has received less attention from the global public opinion. The UNCCD has received less political attention and less financing than climate change and biological diversity.
It is true that it has gained momentum, because of its potential to improve issues like agricultural production, forestry, food security, social stability and even peace. Currently 80% of violent conflicts take place in drylands… This fact deserves the international community's attention. It's simply revealing and very shocking.
But the impact that a good land management can have on climate change has not been stressed enough. The emissions from deforestation and agriculture account for 25% of global emissions. The forest cover can avoid erosion and help to provide clean and safe water sources. If we restore our natural resources, we will protect biodiversity.
We must thus give the same importance to Deforestation as we give to Climate Change. And the international community must be consequent when it plans financing for both programs.
And the Knowledge Management, Science and Technology (KMST) Unit must be strengthened, because Desertification must have an intergovernmental scientific panel, similar to the one Climate Change has.
Fortunately the 15th Sustainable Development Goal–that will be approved in September - refers to the fight against desertification and establishes demanding targets for 2020.
We must point out that whereas the MDGs were considered a commitment of rich countries to the poor countries, the SDGs advocate a change of economic paradigm for all the international community. The post-2015 Agenda has a transformative vocation. It must be equipped with effective and shared commitments.
And more precisely with financial commitments. The recent Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, in the 63rd point of the conclusions mentions desertification plainly and this is a very positive step forward.
And we must take this step forward. And we must demand that Development Banks incorporate ecological conditionality in their programs.
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,
Desertification is as grave a threat as climate change. A third of Earth's land is threatened by desertification and drought that puts 1.2 billion people's lives at risk.
The Earth can't stand much longer the excess of our actions. We must change our attitudes and turn this tendency around.
China is trying hard and the world must do the same.
And there are four decisive words: awareness, commitment, science and first and foremost: cooperation. Cooperation is the only path to ensure that our planet stays the way it is: a unique and unrepeatable place.
Thank you very much.