Programme Director;

The Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw;

Director-General and staff of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries;

The Managing Director of the UNCCD Global Mechanism;

UNCCD Staff;

UNCCD Focal Points from the Africa Region;

Representatives of different organisations and partners present here today;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and gentlemen;

On behalf of the Government and the People of the Republic of South Africa, let me welcome all our visitors to our country.

We find ourselves greatly honoured having been chosen to be the host of such an important meeting.

This is the platform where the African Focal Points to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification will discuss issues in preparation for the upcoming fourteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in New Delhi, India next month.

I hope you will be able to find our environment and facilities suitable for thorough preparations for the COP14. South Africa, the cradle of humankind, welcomes you home!

Hosting of this very important meeting by South Africa is very opportune, as we celebrate 25 years of our democracy.

These celebrations are alongside widespread celebrations by the community of nations of 25 years of advancement of Sustainable Land Management under the auspices of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which came into force in 1994.

As you are aware, desertification, land degradation and drought in Africa is strongly linked to poverty, food and water security as well as migration amongst others.

South Africa, being the host of this important meeting, would like to see an outcome where concrete common positions will be reached during this meeting.

We hope that those of you who are present here will also attend COP 14 in numbers in order to ensure that the ideas we share during this preparatory meeting and the common positions we reach here will have champions and defenders in New Delhi.

As already mentioned, this meeting brings together all African Focal Points and experts primarily to frame regional positions on matters of common interest as such pertains to desertification, land degradation and drought.

We are committed in ensuring that Africa is united in approach, content and in pursuit of strengthened regional coordination and cooperation even beyond the coming Conference of Parties to the UNCCD.

We place our faith in all of you as experts, policy makers and the chosen team by your countries and in essence the Africa Region.

Programme Director, Distinguished participants;

Going through the scope for COP 14, one can already tell that the negotiations will not be easy. I note with appreciation the emphasis in this Convention on the integration of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

SDG Goal 15 which focuses on life on land, highlights a target that is committing countries to combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world by 2030.

This commitment is pertinent to the implementation of our national obligations to the UNCCD. Achieving this goal requires additional financial resources as well as enhanced technologies and capabilities.

As we deliberate, emphasis should be placed on the means of implementation to achieve the Land Degradation Neutrality targets and indicators.

And this must be done through the development of transformative or bankable projects and programmes.

Our efforts in mobilising and redirecting financial flows should therefore be strategic. We don’t have many options, but to ensure the leveraging of cross-cutting benefits of sustainable land management policies and programmes relating to poverty reduction, food and water security, agriculture, environment and socio-economic development.

Programme Director, Drought is not limited to Africa but is a global problem that affects many parts of the world.

Drought is one of the major drivers of global food and water insecurity. I would therefore like to underscore the importance of science in informing our interventions and policy decisions.

Our capacities to assess, analyse and forecast are invaluable to help us adapt and respond to the increasing impacts of the changing climate.

Evidence indicate that, our region is more prone to extreme events manifested through increased frequency of floods and droughts that exacerbate the rate and extent of desertification and land degradation.

I am informed that a Working Group which was established has concluded its work on possible options and indicators for drought.

I’m also informed that the UNCCD has been pursuing a process to locate the issue of drought explicitly into the UNCCD programmes of work.

This may lead to a policy framework on drought and/or a defined international instrument under this Convention. We have entrusted you to carry the regional aspirations in this regard.

I now wish all our National Focal Points and experts in this room the best as they deliberate on key issues of our common interest.

You must remember that the outcome of this meeting will not only determine our level of engagement in the upcoming COP, but will frame our responses to the many challenges of desertification, land degradation and drought.

We must strive to work together at all times and embrace the principle that, what seeks to unite us is always greater than what seeks to divide us.

I also wish to thank our partners who have generously supported this meeting.

Our appreciation goes to the Africa Union Commission; the Global Water Partnership; the Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel; the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Community.

I would like to end this speech with a quote from the renowned late Kenyan environmental and political activist, Dr Wangari Maathai, and I quote:

When resources are degraded, we start competing for themone way to promote peace is to promote sustainable management and equitable distribution of resources. END QUOTE

I wish you a fruitful and successful meeting, as I believe that reaching a common understanding on these relevant issues can help to advance our regional aspirations.

I thank you all!

Source: Department of Environmental Affairs