• World
  • Jun 05

Explainer - World Environment Day

• World Environment Day is celebrated annually on 5 June to put a spotlight on environmental challenges of our time. 

• It is the biggest international day for the environment. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and held annually since 1973, it has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach.

• World Environment Day 2024 focuses on land restoration, stopping desertification and building drought resilience. 

• Saudi Arabia will host World Environment Day 2024 with a focus on land restoration, desertification and drought resilience. 

• Land restoration is a key pillar of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, which is critical to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

• All over the world, ecosystems are threatened. From forests and drylands to farmlands and lakes, natural spaces on which humanity’s existence depends are reaching a tipping point.

• According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, up to 40 per cent of the planet’s land is degraded, directly affecting half of the world’s population. 

• The number and duration of droughts has increased by 29 per cent since 2000 — without urgent action, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world's population by 2050.

• 2024 will mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

What is land degradation?

Land degradation is caused by multiple forces, including extreme weather conditions, particularly drought. It is also caused by human activities that pollute or degrade the quality of soils and land utility. It negatively affects food production, livelihoods, and the production and provision of other ecosystem goods and services. 

What is desertification?

Desertification is not the natural expansion of existing deserts but the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is a gradual process of soil productivity loss and the thinning out of the vegetative cover because of human activities and climatic variations such as prolonged droughts and floods. What is alarming is that though the land's topsoil, if mistreated, can be blown and washed away in a few seasons, it takes centuries to build up. Among human causal factors are overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices. Such overexploitation is generally caused by economic and social pressure, ignorance, war, and drought. 

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

• The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.

• The Convention was adopted in Paris on June 17, 1994 and entered into force on December 26, 1996 after the 50th ratification was received.

• It is the only legally binding framework set up to address desertification and the effects of drought. 

• There are 197 Parties to the Convention, including 196 country Parties and the European Union.

• The Convention’s 197 Parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought. 

• Parties to the Convention meet in Conferences of the Parties (COP) every two years, as well as in technical meetings throughout the year, to advance the aims and ambitions of the Convention and achieve progress in its implementation.

• It unites governments, scientists, policymakers, private sector and communities around a shared vision and global action to restore and manage the world’s land for the sustainability of humanity and the planet.

• The UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation. 

• The UNCCD Secretariat facilitates cooperation between developed and developing countries, particularly around knowledge and technology transfer for sustainable land management.

Some key facts:

• Every five seconds, the equivalent of one football pitch of soil is eroded. Yet, it takes 1,000 years to generate 3 centimeters of topsoil.

• Over 4.7 million hectares of forests – an area larger than Denmark – are lost every year.

• Trees in urban areas can cool the air by up to 5°C, reducing air conditioning needs by 25 per cent.

• Lakes, rivers and wetlands hold 20–30 per cent of global carbon despite occupying only 5–8 per cent of its land surface.

• Nearly 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is discharged to our oceans and rivers without treatment.

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