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Statement delivered by H.E. Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson at High-level Meeting on "Implementation of the Water-related Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda"

High-level Meeting on

„Implementation of the Water-related Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda“

Statement on behalf of

the Group of Friends of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought


Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation, Iceland

18 March 2021


Mr. President.

I am pleased to address you on behalf of the Group of Friends of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought; a group of states co-chaired by Namibia and my own country, Iceland.

While today’s High-Level Meeting is about water, we must not forget that water and land are interconnected; these are two sides of the same coin.

In order to achieve universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, the problem of land degradation, desertification and drought, not least in Africa, needs to be addressed. When land degrades, it loses its natural ability to absorb, filter and store water. Restoring degraded land and fighting land degradation, coupled with sound water management, are therefore a key to ensure availability of water by 2030.

To frame this in the context of Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals, progress on land issues under SDG15 can be a factor towards reaching SDG6 on Clean Water and Sanitation. It is therefore imperative that we, on a global scale, strive to attain a state of land degradation neutrality by 2030.

It is important to note the significant progress that has already been achieved in curbing land degradation and investing in land restoration.

Countries have, for example, committed to restore close to a billion hectares of land through their Land Degradation Neutrality plans and the Bonn Challenge.

And, at their last Summit, G20 leaders announced that they share the ambition of achieving a 50 percent reduction of degraded land by 2040. G20 environment ministers, furthermore, launched “the Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats”.

In the context of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, we must continue to scale up efforts to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide, both water and land ecosystems.

Mr. President.

The most water-stressed people in this world share both a geography and a gender: they are women and girls located in dry lands in charge of collecting water for their families. 

Indeed, UN Water estimates that globally women spend 200 million hours every day collecting water - time that could otherwise be spent on education, or income generating activities, or with their loved ones. The fact that women also play a critical role in agriculture and food production calls for gender responsive policies on both fronts – on water and on land.

It is simple: To ensure success, women must be a part of the solution.

Overall, we need to fight land degradation in practical terms, focusing on capacity building and financing to achieve the SDGs. Doing so, will have multiple co-benefits: Not only enhanced sustainable water management, but also, for example, decreased risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases and future pandemics - or more efficient carbon sinks.

The Group of Friends of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought welcomes the increasing recognition of integrated land and water-based solutions in the implementation of Agenda 2030.

We look forward to continuing these discussions, including at the upcoming High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought.

I thank you.


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