Record-breaking World Environment Day spotlights land restoration, desertification and drought resilience

Record-breaking World Environment Day spotlights land restoration, desertification and drought resilience

With a focus on restoring degraded lands, combatting desertification and building drought resilience, countries around the world came together today to mark World Environment Day 2024, under the rallying call ‘Our Land. Our Future. We are #Generation Restoration’.  

On the biggest calendar moment for environmental action, the official celebrations hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia marked the second time in more than 50 years that World Environment Day has been hosted in the West Asia region. Faced with more severe and prolonged droughts, sandstorms and rising temperatures, the region is seeing deserts expand, fresh water sources evaporate, and fertile soils erode.   
World Environment Day 2024 registered a record-breaking number of events– 3657 and counting at the time of launch – held by governments, cities, civil society, universities and schools, and businesses spanning the globe. Activities ranged from high-level events in Riyadh to week-long festivities in South America, from zoo celebrations in Europe and Asia to soil restoration labs for children in Africa, from posters dotting transport hubs to the largest mural in North America, and from film screenings to video messages from celebrities and space agency NASA.

Tens of millions of people joined the online global conversation, with #WorldEnvironmentDay trending above blockbuster movies and global politics on social media, amplifying the global rally to restore the land that humanity and countless other species depend on for survival.  

“Today, we’re pushing planetary boundaries to the brink – shattering global temperature records and reaping the whirlwind”, said António Guterres the UN Secretary-General in a special address on climate action at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “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. 

Up to 40 per cent of the world’s land is already degraded, directly affecting half of humanity, and an estimated 3.2 billion people worldwide are negatively impacted by desertification. By 2050, more than three-quarters of the world’s population is expected to be affected by droughts.   

This World Environment Day aims to support accelerated progress on global commitments, which include protecting 30 per cent of land and sea for nature and restoring 30 per cent of the planet’s degraded ecosystems. While countries have promised to restore one billion hectares of land by 2030, current trends suggest 1.5 billion hectares would need to be restored to meet the 2030 land degradation neutrality goals.   
Saudi Arabia has announced environmental sustainability goals to help tackle the challenges of drought, desertification and land degradation, including a pledge to plant 50 billion trees across the region through the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative. On World Environment Day the government celebrated its land restoration efforts and announced greater support and funding for private and philanthropic organisations working on environmental issues.  Further, Saudi Arabia confirmed the country is on track to meet the global land degradation neutrality target by 2030.

“In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, great efforts have been made to restore lands and limit degradation, including with the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Initiative, but also to promote regional cooperation to reduce land degradation, conserve vegetation, enhance biodiversity and food security,” said Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley, Saudi Minister for Environment, Water and Agriculture. 

“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.

Addressing government officials and industry leaders at the Riyadh event, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen stressed the need for urgent action to make the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration goals a reality by 2030. 

“Billions across the world are facing food insecurity, crippling droughts, and livelihoods are under threat. That is why on World Environment Day we’re asking the world to join the global movement to restore our lands, increase drought resilience and combat desertification,” said Executive Director Andersen. “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.  

On World Environment Day, six new cities stretching from Africa to Latin America joined UNEP’s Generation Restoration Cities. Collectively, these urban areas – representing 45 million inhabitants, 2.1 million hectares of land and 600 kilometres of waterways – are now seeking to replicate and scale up ecosystem restoration initiatives using nature-based solutions.  

Championing the 2030 Agenda to move the world onto a sustainable and resilient path and joining forces to protect people and planet, World Environment Day 2024 builds momentum for climate action by rallying support for vital ecosystems restoration work.    

Saudi Arabia has partnered with the Group of 20 nations and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on the G20 Global Land Initiative, which aims to cut degradation by 50 per cent by 2040. In December, the country will the sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP16) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). This will be the first time the region has hosted this meeting, which is widely seen as a pivotal moment in the global effort to end land degradation.   

Some World Environment Day announcements and commitments  

  • The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, launched a 5 Million Tree Project. 
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed the government’s commitment to conserve 30 per cent of land and ocean by 2030, and to boost clean energy industries. 
  • Brazil President Lula da Silva attended a presentation by the Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, summarising the actions of the ministry in nearly a year and a half of government. The minister also announced new environmental protection measures, including decrees signed.
  • Oman plants over 16 million seeds under initiative to plant 10mn indigenous trees  
  • Bangladesh to expand tree cover to 25 per cent of land area by 2030  
  • Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and his ministers announced the government’s intention to ban bottom trawling in marine protected areas (MPAs) and all Swedish territorial waters (up to 12 nautical miles). 
  • New observatory to track progress of Africa’s Great Green Wall unveiled .
  • Largest exterior mural in North America unveiled in celebration of World Environment Day. 
  • Rainforest Trust announced a massive milestone—50 million acres of habitat protected to date, an area 40 times the size of Grand Canyon National Park 
  • Przewalski’s horses land in Kazakhstan marking a new chapter in biodiversity conservation.
  •  Prince Talal International Prize for Human Development announced the winners of US$1,000,000 dedicated for Life on Land.
  • Liberia president Joseph Boakai proclaimed World Environment Day to be observed throughout the country as a Working Holiday.

About World Environment Day 

World Environment Day on 5 June is one of the biggest international days for the environment. Led by UNEP and held annually since 1973, the event has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people from across the world engaging to protect the planet. 

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)   

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.   

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