Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson attended the Twelfth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP12) in Ankara, Turkey this week. One of the principal issues discussed was land rehabilitation and other actions to combat land degradation and desertification as it has become evident that there is a direct link between soil erosion, desertification and climate change, which in turn has a direct impact on the current refugee crisis, amongst other things.
Foreign Minister Sveinsson gave a keynote speech at the panel discussions on actions to combat soil erosion. The Minister explained Iceland's long-standing battle against desertification through land rehabilitation and the work carried out by the UN Land Restoration Training Programme in Iceland, UNU-LRT. He suggested that Iceland share its knowledge accumulated through this work as increased training is believed to be one of the most important means to achieve better results in the future. He welcomed that land restoration was included in the universal Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in New York September, as Iceland had made a special effort to this end, together with a Group of Friends on Desertification formed within the United Nations.
The Intergovernmental Conference is the first large UN meeting following the adoption of the universal Sustainable Development Goals. The new universal goals present a challenge and give the world's nations occasion to join in the promotion of equality, ensure food security, biodiversity, whilst combating negative climate change impacts. Amongst issues discussed at the conference are ways to implement the universal goal of reaching land degradation neutrality by 2030. Further, synergy between UN agreements is discussed extensively, as well as ways to promote work to halt land degradation and restore degraded land to combat climate change, which looks to the Paris climate conference in December 2015.
Foreign Minister Sveinsson also chaired a ministerial breakfast meeting of the Group of Friends on Desertification, attended by Madame Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of UNCCD, as well as the UN Deputy Secretary-General, on issues pertaining to the least developed countries.Around 3000 people attend the conference, which takes place between 12-24 October, of which 100 are ministers and heads of state.