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Statements in International Organisations


International Conference on Combating Desertification (Beijing, 22-24 January 2008)

Address by H. E. Marjan Cencen, Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia in Beijing on behalf of the European Union

Mr Chairman,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have a pleasure to speak on behalf of the European Union and all its Member States.

First of all I would like to convey the European Union’s gratitude to the government and people of the People’s Republic of China for organizing this conference and for their hospitality.

Desertification raises two priority issues that we must address urgently.

On the one hand, desertification has worsened due to global warming. The consequences of global warming described in the fourth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—on which the international community relies as the indisputable scientific authority—are clearly likely to speed up desertification and soil degradation in dramatic proportions.

On the other, the most vulnerable countries are once again those hit first. Of course, no region in the world is spared. Even within the European Union, like in others industrialized countries, drought and desertification has become a serious problem. But the socioeconomic impacts stemming from the biophysical effects of desertification are felt most harshly in the least developed countries, especially in Africa. For many States with limited resources, encroaching desertification and soil degradation translate very concretely into less arable land, bringing about food insecurity, massive depopulation of rural areas, the breakdown of local communities, which may lead to uncontrolled interregional and then intercontinental migrations or even open conflict triggered by competition for natural resources.


Mr Chairman,

The European Union considers that combating desertification must rank among the top environmental priorities of the international community, which can no longer put off taking a stand for even a second. Indeed, the situation endangers the very existence of hundreds of millions of people, undermines the stability of the weakest States, and in some cases compounds the threats to peace and international security.

The European Union has spared no effort in helping countries affected by desertification through Community cooperation. Likewise, each Member State has developed its own strategies and taken bilateral support action, often amounting to tens of millions of euros per year. Yet this is not enough. To meet what is a global threat, the United Nations is the best framework for coordinating the international community as a whole. That is why the European Union strongly supported the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) right from its inception.


Mr Chairman,

Paradoxically, the threat has become so serious today and the reaction it imposes so urgent that they must be seized as opportunities for action.

First, growing international awareness that the challenges to the climate are serious has led to unprecedented mobilisation, at the highest political level. As we saw, the entire world, from the man on the street to Heads of State, had their eyes riveted on Bali for two weeks, during the 13th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCD). Indeed, combating desertification is one of the most practical and immediately effective ways of adaptating to the effects of climate change. The European Union considers that henceforth the Convention to Combat Desertification should be closely coordinated, in particular with regard to adaptation, with its sister convention, the UNCCD, and benefit from the political momentum aimed at addressing climate change. May I also remind you that soil degradation is responsible for a significant share, probably still greatly underestimated, of worldwide carbon emissions.

Next, the UNCCD itself has just gone through a pivotal stage. At the COP 8 in Madrid, an ambitious ten-year strategic plan was adopted, with the European Union’s full support. Moreover, the Convention leadership has changed with the recent appointment of Mr Luc Gnacadja as Executive Secretary. The European Union will resolutely back his projects for restructuring the secretariat. The Union will nevertheless watch the outcome closely, and we expect the secretariat’s management to be exemplary from now on. No one should have cause to challenge the usefulness of a reformed, productive convention with a clear, operational road map. The European Union will spare no effort to help realise the new ambition that took form at the Madrid COP.


Mr Chairman,

The Union means to answer “present” at the next critical junctures. We will pursue our cooperation, at both Community level and bilaterally, with the affected countries, in coordination with other developed countries. We will support the implementation of the ten-year strategic plan adopted by the Convention to Combat Desertification. Finally, we will ensure that combating desertification, through the issue of adaptation, is given due consideration in climate negotiations.

Thank you for your attention.


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Date: 23.01.2008