Credit: UNEP/Duncan Moore

The host of the 2024 World Environment Day, Saudi Arabia, has partnered with the Group of 20 nations and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on the G20 Global Land Initiative.

During the Riyadh (Virtual) Summit of the G20 leaders in November 2020, the G20 introduced the Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats. The objective of the initiative is to stop, prevent, and reverse land degradation, aiming to reduce degraded land by 50 percent by 2040.

The country in the West Asia region has also announced environmental sustainability goals aimed at addressing the issues of drought, desertification, and land degradation. This includes a commitment to plant 50 billion trees across the region through initiatives like the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative.

The government celebrated its ongoing land restoration efforts and announced increased support and funding for private and philanthropic organizations dedicated to environmental causes. Saudi Arabia also affirmed its commitment to achieving the global target of land degradation neutrality by 2030, stating that the country is on track to meet this goal.

Countries worldwide united to observe World Environment Day 2024, focusing on restoring degraded lands, combating desertification, and fostering drought resilience, under the theme "Our Land. Our Future. We are #Generation Restoration."

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen at WED 2024 host country event.

This is only the second time in over 50 years that World Environment Day has been hosted in the West Asia region. As the region contends with increasingly severe and prolonged droughts, sandstorms, and rising temperatures, desert expansion, evaporation of freshwater sources, and erosion of fertile soils are becoming more pronounced.

UNEP reported a record-breaking number of events, totaling 3,657 which were organized by governments, cities, civil society groups, universities, schools, and businesses across the globe.

The activities ranged from high-level events in Riyadh to week-long celebrations in South America, from zoo festivities in Europe and Asia to soil restoration workshops for children in Africa. Additionally, initiatives included posters displayed in transport hubs, the creation of the largest mural in North America, film screenings, and video messages from celebrities and NASA.

Tens of millions of people reportedly participated in the online global conversation, with #WorldEnvironmentDay trending above blockbuster movies and global politics on social media. This amplified the worldwide call to action to restore the land upon which humanity and countless other species rely for survival.

The Saudi Minister for Environment, Water, and Agriculture, Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley, emphasized the significant strides taken to restore lands and mitigate degradation. He also highlighted the importance of fostering regional cooperation to combat land degradation, preserve vegetation, bolster biodiversity, and ensure food security.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to improve vegetation cover and combat desertification through the Saudi Green Initiative and national strategy will enable the country to reach its land degradation neutrality goal by 2030,” he added.

Speaking to government officials and industry leaders at the Riyadh event, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen stated the critical importance of taking immediate action to achieve the goals set forth by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration by 2030.

Inger underscored the urgency of the situation, noting that billions of people worldwide are grappling with food insecurity, debilitating droughts, and threatened livelihoods. She called upon the global community to unite in a concerted effort to restore our lands, enhance drought resilience, and combat desertification.

“Restoration is the natural solution to help address the triple planetary crisis, deliver new jobs, lower poverty and build resilience to extreme weather. Land is life – and we must protect it,” she added.  

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen bilateral with HE Mr. Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen Al-AFadli Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

In a special address on climate action at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is dangerously close to pushing planetary boundaries to the brink.

He highlighted the alarming trend of shattered global temperature records and emphasized the dire consequences humanity faces as a result.

 “And it’s a travesty of climate justice that those least responsible for the crisis are hardest hit: the poorest people; the most vulnerable countries; Indigenous Peoples; women and girls,” he added. 

Currently, up to 40 percent of the world's land is degraded, directly impacting half of the global population. About 3.2 billion people worldwide suffer adverse effects from desertification. By the year 2050, it is projected that over three-quarters of the world's population will be affected by droughts.

2024 World Environment Day seeks to bolster advancement toward global commitments, such as safeguarding 30 percent of land and sea for nature and revitalizing 30 percent of the world's degraded ecosystems. Despite countries pledging to restore one billion hectares of land by 2030, current projections indicate that 1.5 billion hectares will be necessary to achieve the land degradation neutrality goals by 2030.

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