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10. september 2019 Umhverfis- og auðlindaráðuneytið

Ávarp Guðmundar Inga Guðbrandssonar umhverfis- og auðindaráðherra á 14. aðildarríkjaþingi eyðimerkursamnings S.þ.

Fourteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, New-Delhi, India 10 September 2019

Statement of Iceland

H.E. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson,
Minister for Environment and Natural Resources of Iceland

Honorable Chair, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

As a little boy, growing up on a farm in Iceland, my grandmother taught me the names of all the mountains on the horizon. There were four glaciers, each with their own name. Today, due to the climate crises, I can only see three of these glaciers as one has melted away. Another is likely to disappear within the next 40 years.
Glaciers are a magnificent natural phenomenon. And in Iceland, they have become the warning signs of the climate crises.

During COP14 we have discussed the multiple sides of land degradation and opportunities that sustainable land management and land restoration offer us to combat the climatic challenges the world is facing.

But the land offers much more. Indeed, degraded land is the root cause of many burning challenges we are facing today. Land restoration offers multiple cross cutting solutions and is the connecting piece between enhanced food security, water, biodiversity, reduced climate emissions, strengthened social stability, peace and security. In relation to this, a more equal world for women and men and increased participation of our youth is needed.

Therefore, sustainable land management and land restoration is the synergetic tool to tackle many of these issues.

Such synergies need to be higher on the international as well as national agendas and funding priorities need to focus more on land restoration. Much more investment in land restoration is needed and scaling-up of our actions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Icelandic government has put the climate crises high on the agenda. We have pledged to reduce our emission by 40% by 2030 under the Paris Agreement and to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. As part of our climate action plan from 2018, we have decided to multiple our efforts in ecosystem restoration and it forms one of two main pillars of the plan – thus mainstreaming restoration and synergetic approaches in our policy.

Nature is one of the solutions. Our aim is to restore ecosystems to conserve and enhance biological diversity, increase ecosystem resilience against natural disasters and increase the potential of our rural societies to use these ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods.

Our climate change mitigation plan entails to increase the efforts in carbon sequestration in soils and decrease in the carbon emission from soils to a total of 50% in 2030 and 110% in 2050, working with various stakeholders, including farmers and NGOs. These numbers do not include volunteer actions, but what this really means is that we will double our afforestation efforts as well as our efforts in land restoration, and increase wetland restoration ten times from what it is now.

Nature is certainly a big part of the solution.

In addition, the Icelandic government is also committed to other types of nature conservation and now prepares the establishment of a large national park in the central highland of the country, vast wilderness area covering about 30% of the total area of Iceland. The opportunities that arise through such a big scale project for land restoration and sustainable land use are unpresented.

Iceland has an interesting story to tell on land degradation and restoration. At the turn of the 19th century, Iceland was Europe’s poorest country and by mid-1960´s we were still classified by the UNDP as a developing country. One challenge my country was facing was severe land degradation. We had lost over 95% of the original birch woodland cover and half of our soils had blown away. But we managed to get out of poverty and today we are restoring more vegetation cover than we are losing.

This is a powerful message to the world that positive change can take place given that careful policies are enforced. Switching from wood fire and coal to geothermal energy, decreasing grazing on degraded lands and closing of the worst areas, enforcing participatory programs with farmers on restoration and rehabilitation, have made this possible.
But we still have a long way to go. We have half of the original soils to restore.

Addressing land degradation and restoring degraded land for more than 100 years has taught the Icelandic people many valuable lessons. And we want to share those lessons with the world. Since 2007 we have been running an international land restoration training programme as a part of the United Nations University. The aim of the program is to strengthen institutional and individual capacities in developing countries with a focus on promoting restoration of degraded land and sustainable land management.

We hope to expand our international work further in cooperation with other international partners. And, as recently as two days ago, myself and Inger Andersen the executive director of UNEP signed a letter of intent for a partnership between the Icelandic government and UNEP aiming at collaboration in developing countries on harnessing the capacity of land for climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts – knowing that land reclamation and restoration is the most important nature based solution closing the remaining emission gap.

Ladies and gentlemen,
To conclude with, land and land restoration is a connecting piece between climate, biodiversity, food security and the world´s peace. Let us put it higher on the political agenda.


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