Friday, May 13 2022

In a world marked by an increasingly rapid cycle of news, conflict and division, there are rare moments when there is an opportunity to plan for the future, to repair the damage of previous generations and to build a better, fairer and more sustainable future.

Such an opportunity presents itself in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from May 9 to 20. Participants from 197 countries, including politicians, business people, civil society and other stakeholders, will gather for COP15, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification ( UNCCD).

It’s more than a conversation store. This is a critical moment to provide concrete responses to the challenges of land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss. COP15 is a turning point for the much larger challenges of our time. Meeting these challenges is good for security, good for health and good for equality in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. It helps us rebuild the foundations of a more stable and balanced international order.

Côte d’Ivoire bears witness every day to the impact of environmental degradation. We have lost 92 percent of primary forests since independence in 1960. In the north of the country, land degradation rates have reached between 80 and 90 percent. This has had a profound impact on our quality of life and reduced opportunities for new generations.

In response, my government pledged to increase the country’s forest cover from 9% to 20% by 2030, a total of 3 billion new trees, and launched large-scale reforestation initiatives. These show promising results.

We started using smart planting drones capable of spreading more than 2,500 seed plugs in 15 minutes and covering almost nine hectares in one hour of flight time. The Ministry of Waters and Forests has raised a “green army” to fight against illegal mining, logging and agriculture in 232 classified forests.

We have formed a new partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to boost sustainable cocoa production, without deforestation, promote agroforestry and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in under the Green Climate Fund.

And it’s not me saying it, as the NGO Mighty Earth and others have noted, these initiatives are really starting to reverse the curve of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire. Of course, we have a lot more to do, and that’s why at COP15 we launched the Abidjan Legacy program, which builds on our experience and shows what can be done on a global scale.

The Abidjan Legacy program is a 30-year project aimed at fostering inclusive development through concrete initiatives for women and youth, stimulating job creation and sustainable development in key economic, social and environmental sectors and to improve the living conditions of people in rural areas through job creation in the agricultural sector.

President Alassane Ouattara awaits the opening ceremony of COP15 at the Sofitel Ivoire hotel in Abidjan on May 9, 2022.
SIA KAMBOU/AFP via Getty Images

The benefits of the program will be felt not only in Côte d’Ivoire, but throughout the region and the international community as a whole. This type of recalibration does of course come at a cost, which we estimate for Côte d’Ivoire at $1.5-2 billion, for the first phase of this initiative over the next five years. but it will provide significant long-term value

The ambitions of COP15 are enormous, but they are vital for the global future. According to the UNCCD’s Global Land Outlook, the international community must deliver on its pledge to restore 1 billion hectares of degraded land by 2030. Nearly half of all these pledges are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Even implementing current restoration commitments requires investments estimated between 0.04% and 0.21% of annual global GDP for 10 years ($300 billion to $1.7 trillion). This will be prohibitively expensive for developing countries unless international cost-sharing mechanisms are put in place.

The estimated costs are unfortunately the highest for sub-Saharan Africa due to our large restoration needs. While Africa is home to many of the planet’s precious resources, we are also the most vulnerable to climate change. Helping Africa will help the rest of the world.

Sud-Comoé, Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast
Rough seas under cloudy skies in Sud-Comoé, Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast.
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

This aid must be better adapted to the realities of the situation. Most aid currently funds projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but African countries account for 3.8% of such emissions globally. Instead, funds should be redirected to areas that will contribute more effectively to combating desertification and specifically to projects that help us adapt to climate change that is already harming our people and our way of life.

There is a clear path to a more sustainable “land, life and legacy” approach at COP15. In Côte d’Ivoire, we have shown that when we bring together ideas, resources and partnerships, it is possible to reverse harm and bring about positive change. The Abidjan summit is the platform to agree on a cooperation project that can guide a generation. You have to seize it.

Alassane Ouattara is President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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