Saudi Arabia has formalized its commitment to environmental stewardship by signing an agreement with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), marking the initiation of preparations for the 16th session of the Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP16). The groundbreaking conference is scheduled to unfold in Riyadh from December 2 to December 13, 2024.
This upcoming COP16 in Riyadh is poised to make history as the largest-ever gathering of UNCCD’s 197 parties. It will also be a trailblazing event as the first of its kind to be held in the Middle East, signifying the largest multilateral conference ever hosted by Saudi Arabia. The decision to host COP16 aligns with the Kingdom’s commitment to environmental protection on national, regional, and international fronts, as emphasized by Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Eng. Abdulrahman Al Fadley during the signing ceremony.
Highlighting the global significance of the event, 2024 also marks the 30th anniversary of the UNCCD, one of the pivotal Rio Conventions alongside climate change and biodiversity. UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw stressed the urgency of the situation, stating that COP16 must be a turning point in how the world collectively manages its most precious resource – land – and addresses the global drought emergency.
The backdrop for this international initiative is alarming, with approximately 40% of the world’s land already degraded, affecting half of the global population and posing severe consequences for climate, biodiversity, and livelihoods. If current trends persist, restoring 1.5 billion hectares of land by 2030 will be imperative to achieve a land-degradation-neutral world.
COP16 will center its efforts on mobilizing governments, businesses, and communities worldwide to expedite action on land restoration and enhance drought resilience. With droughts increasing in frequency and severity globally, driven by climate change and land management practices, the conference aims to address the crisis collectively. According to UNCCD data, droughts have seen a 29% increase since 2000, impacting one-quarter of the world’s population, with projections indicating that three out of every four people globally will face water scarcity by 2050.
The two-week event in Riyadh will encompass a high-level segment along with related events such as the Gender Caucus and the Business for Land Forum. Given Riyadh’s location in one of the world’s most water-scarce regions, grappling with desertification and land degradation, COP16 will serve as a platform to showcase ongoing environmental efforts in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and beyond, demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability through responsible land stewardship.