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UN seeks new contract for nature to tackle hunger, climate change

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United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called for a “new contract for nature” to address global challenges connected to land degradation, such as forced migration, hunger and climate change.

Guterres made the appeal in a message yesterday to mark the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

“Through international action and solidarity, we can scale up land restoration and nature-based solutions for climate action and the benefit of future generations. By doing so, we can deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leave no one behind,” he said.

Desertification is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations, with more than three billion people routinely affected.

Dry lands, which cover more than a third of the planet’s land surface, are extremely prone to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use, such as overgrazing and bad irrigation practices.

This year’s observation puts the spotlight on sustainable production and consumption. With ‘Food. Feed. Fibre’ as the slogan, the aim is to get people everywhere to reduce food waste, shop at local markets and swap clothes instead of always buying new ones.

The head of the UN office, which oversees a global treaty on preventing land degradation, said although the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) might have temporarily curtailed some freedoms, such as travelling at will, people still have freedom of choice.

“In our globalised world, the food we eat, the feed for our livestock and the fibre for clothes impact land thousands of miles away,” said Executive Secretary at the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Ibrahim Thiaw. “Each of us holds the power to protect the land for each choice we make in our daily lives. We can still choose to protect nature. By doing so, we, in fact, protect our future.”

The UN scribe pointed noted to reverse land degradation, such as the Great Green Wall in Africa’s Sahel region, launched by the African Union (AU) in 2007.

Through the initiative, trees are planted from Senegal to Djibouti, to restore land and boost food security, transforming lives and livelihoods along the way.

“Such efforts bring back bio-diversity, reduce the effect of climate change and make communities more resilient,” the UN chief said. “All told, the benefits outweigh the costs 10-fold.”

Globally, 75 per cent of land is degraded, according to the President of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande.

“As land degrades, resources deplete. Thus, the most vulnerable people are further exposed to poverty and hunger; with women, smallholder farmers, indigenous communities and children disproportionately affected,” he said.

Muhammad-Bande believes that an “urgent paradigm shift” is needed, focusing on protection, sustainability and restoration; hence he called for renewed commitment to safeguard the planet.