Namibian Minister for Environment and Tourism and UNCCD CoP 11 President, Honourable Pohamba Shifeta delivers opening address at African Group Preparatory Meeting for UNCCD CoP 12

01 September 2015, Protea Hotel Fire and Ice, Menlyn, Gauteng Province, Republic of South Africa

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Ms. Monique Barbut,
Distinguished delegates,
Members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here this evening and also grateful for the opportunity to provide this message of support as we gather here to prepare towards an African position for the upcoming UNCCD COP12.

I would like to particularly thank the government and the people of Republic of South Africa for hosting this important meeting.

The fact that we are all here is a positive sign that we are taking this COP with the importance and seriousness that it deserves. This also symbolizes that Africa is committed to upscale the implementation of the UNCCD effectively and efficiently and without fail.

Ladies and gentlemen

COP12 takes place at a critical time when the global community needs to take serious decisions in order to ensure the effective implementation of this Convention. As I am sure all of us in this room are aware, desertification, land degradation and drought are issues of global importance, which have serious negative implications on livelihoods, biodiversity, economic growth and sustainable development across the world.

Of course, Africa is particularly vulnerable with about 70% of the African population being directly dependent on the environment for its livelihood and around 73 percent of agricultural land thought to be in a degraded state. But we must be careful not to confine these issues only to Africa. With the adoption of the UNCCD Global Strategy in 2008, the Future We Want outcome document in Rio in 2012 and the strong decisions taken at COP11 in Windhoek, there is now political momentum to strengthen the mandate of the UNCCD in reversing land degradation globally and securing a land degradation neutral world.  The Future We Want further identified the crucial importance of synergies in the implementation of the three Conventions and we view the sustainable management of agricultural land as a critical basis for the conservation of biodiversity and climate change adaptation.   

Ladies and gentlemen,

As President of UNCCD COP 11, Namibia set out its vision for a strengthened UNCCD at the national, regional and global level in the Namib Declaration and its subsequent COP11 Presidency Strategy and Action Plan. It has and continues to be our belief that the concept and achievement of land degradation neutrality can breathe new life into the UNCCD, and that an increased focus on drought mitigation can mobilize resources and international attention into critical areas that we see as having been neglected up to now.

As our technical experts and negotiators, you should be assured that you have political support like never before from your political leaders. Recent decisions from the African Union Summits in 2013 and 2014 and the 15th session of the African Ministerial Conference of the Environment earlier in 2015 are proof of this. Amongst others these decisions called for:

  1. The placement of desertification, land degradation, drought and land degradation neutrality at the center of the post-2015 development agenda;
  2. he review and strengthening of our Regional Coordination mechanism and strengthening of African leadership in UNCCD processes; and
  3. The review and alignment of our Regional Action Programmes with the UNCCD Global Strategy.

Distinguished delegates,

This political support should re-assure you but also places pressure on you to be united and strong in pursuit of what we want. We know the contentious issues that are there and we know those who have views contrary to ours. However we equally know what is right for us and opportunities now exist for us to go where we want to go through the UNCCD.

This will be the first UNCCD COP to take place after the adoption of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. In the latest draft of the SDGs, goal 15.3 reads and I quote “By 2020, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world”. That the world has committed to these issues is a good opportunity for us to set clear targets and have a clear focus to measure progress and development under this convention in line with the new post-2015 development framework. In this regard, I strongly believe that a target on land degradation can easily be linked to other efforts in the sister Conventions, particularly the adaptation goal currently being discussed in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) under the UNFCCC.

For this reason, Namibia has embraced the concept of land degradation neutrality and already has targets in place for increasing the productivity of our rangelands, cropland and forested land as well as for reducing the area of degraded land through bush encroachment. I hereby call on you all to follow this example.

Distinguished delegates,

If there is one issue I am passionate about, and I’m sure my fellow Minister from the Republic of South Africa will agree with me here, is the need to bring the Regional Coordination Unit back to Africa. It should pain each one of us that the African RCU is based at the UNCCD Secretariat Headquarters in Germany. This paints a terrible picture and I call on us to accelerate the implementation of the AU and AMCEN decisions to do all we can to bring the Regional Coordination Unit for Africa back to the continent without any further delays. Furthermore we must do all in our power and commit to make the RCU fully functional and responsive to our needs. I take heart from the fact that the Regional Consultative Committee meeting has taken place prior to this meeting and I trust that this critical issue was at the top of their agenda.

Africa, as the most severely affected continent, must take the lead and demonstrate our commitment to the implementation of this Convention. There is enough scientific evidence that demonstrate how Africa is vulnerable to the impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought. In 2013, Namibia experienced its worst drought in 30 years, while drought is again affecting a number of countries in the SADC region this year. The declining crop yields and collapsed livestock markets compromise our food security and further propel our people into poverty. Therefore, it is high time that we capitalize on the opportunities through this Convention to find solutions to these issues and to show that in Africa we can do things better than elsewhere.

In this regard, I am again heartened by the fact that a regional meeting took place prior to this one to elaborate a Sub-Regional Action Programme for the SADC region to implement the provisions of this Convention. I look forward to improved cooperation with our neighboring countries in implementing this regional action programme.

Ladies and gentleman,

Last but not least the issue of means of implementation particularly finance is crucial in the implementation of this Convention. While we recognize the efforts by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) for the increased resource allocation on issues of sustainable land management, we should be relentless in our call for those other developed countries to fulfill their obligations under the UNCCD. It is unacceptable that some of the developed countries do not treat this Convention with the importance it deserves and have even failed to pay their annual contributions to the UNCCD. This is crippling the Secretariat’s ability to carry out its mandate effectively and we do not support the move to reduce the periodicity of COP, CST and CRIC meetings.


You, as negotiators and experts, are the voice of Africa, the voice of our communities and the poorest of the poor. You must at all times advocate the need for decisions and solutions that benefit these communities. Otherwise this Convention will fail to meet its objectives.

With these few words, I wish you fruitful deliberations throughout this meeting.

I thank you!