Once again, tiny Costa Rica takes a global leadership role in restoring the planet’s land & natural resources…and our future

On June 17, 2021 in Bonn, Germany and in San Jose, Costa Rica, Costa Ric—in their role as host of the 2021 Desertification and Drought Day—brought bring together world leaders and leading environmental figures to ramp up land restoration globally in the coming decade.

The virtual High-Level Forum was led by the President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, and their Minister of Environment and Energy, Andrea Meza.

The Forum is part of the 2021 Desertification and Drought Day celebrations organized jointly with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The virtual High-level Forum will address the importance of international cooperation and solidarity in the context of global efforts to restore balance with nature and promote peace, while fighting climate change and ensuring human health.

Costa Rica hosted the global celebration this year and showed the impacts and solutions for this problem in a televised talk show program aired the same day.

The goal for this year’s Desertification and Drought Day was to demonstrate that investing in sustainable land and water management in the aftermath of COVID-19 can invigorate a green recovery, in terms of creating decent jobs and rebuilding livelihoods, but also in protecting societies and economies from potential crises caused by climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation.

In the forum, Costa Rican authorities highlighted how the country has implemented public policies and actions to protect nature for decades, and was the first tropical country to halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation. Forests cover more than 54 per cent of its territory today and meet the daily needs of thousands for people. More than 26 per cent of the national territory is protected by law and the country is already implementing plans, public policy, and specific actions for land restoration.

President Carlos Alvarado said that “for Costa Rica it is important to use its leadership – and it must do so – to bring many partners together and to be able to raise its voice on this issue.

Everything is interconnected in today’s world. In cities, the desertification issue may be seen as something remote. But what happens in rural areas – the loss of those arable areas – means more pressure on the world’s food systems and less food for all and all or less carbon-sequestering forests,” he stressed.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres; the President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır; UNCCD Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw; ministers from key countries around the world and civil society participants also spoke. Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and founder of Global Optimism, moderated the session.

The pandemic has reminded us how much we depend on each other. How much our fate depends on our relationships with nature. How much we need good political will, combined with collective action, and sustained investment. When these come together, we can make a difference. Restoring land can give us better food and water security, reduced carbon emissions, and healthy air quality. We already have the tools – like responsible land governance, and investments that protect and restore nature. Investing in healthy land to drive a green recovery is a smart economic decision. This is how we can build a greener, healthier, and more sustainable future,” said Thiaw.

At the onset of the UN Decade of Ecosystems Restoration (2021 – 2030), and based on its experience and environmental leadership, on June 17, Costa Rica called on the international community to rally up a high ambition for the stewardship of land as part of a coordinated response to land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss worldwide.

And that is what we need to put on the table: mobilizing funds so that we can continue to implement all our land-based solutions. It is critical for all governments, companies, and societies to have this integrated approach. If we want to make progress, tackle the climate crisis, and halt the loss of biodiversity, we also need to have an extremely robust strategy for preserving our soil. That is what is going to give us healthy societies and healthy economies,” added Minister Meza.

If everyone is not getting vaccinated, we are not going to emerge from this pandemic. If we do not all get together and protect our forests and soils, we are not going to have a common food future. There is no scenario here where some are going to make it and others are not. It’s the entire planet that has to make it,” concluded President Alvarado.

Costa Rica was also the first country to create, in 1997, a Commission for the implementation of the UNCCD. Known as CADETI (Advisory Commission on Land Degradation) the body is led based on the UNCCD’s principles of participation and partnership, with the government sector (Ministries of Environment and Agriculture), civil society and academia all represented.

Northern Costa Rica and Guanacaste are part of the Central American Dry Corridor that is hard hit by climate change, negatively affecting livestock and agriculture. These areas, together with the Barranca, Tárcoles, Jesús María, and Reventazón river basins, are sites where the country is already implementing plans, public policy, and specific actions for land restoration.

Many people’s lives depend on the health of the land. The fact that we are losing this land due to desertification or drought puts thousands of lives at risk. It is essential for us to form a common front to respond appropriately to this issue so that the next generations will have an opportunity for a good and healthy life,” said President Alvarado Quesada.

The example of Costa Rica, with its agro-environmental policies, is evidence that public policies both matter and have an impact. The knowledge being generated in our interventions in these river basins and all over the country shows that working with small farmers – implementing soil management, water capture, and pasture recovery measures, among others – benefits small land owners can be carried out on different scales,” said Andrea Meza Murillo.

The program for payment for environmental services (Pago por Servicios Ambientales, or PSA), for instance, provides a direct source of income to households that dedicate their lives to working and protecting the land. In 2021, this program will benefit more than 33,000 people in Costa Rica, including indigenous communities and women farm owners. The PSA has helped to protect 320,000 hectares at a cost of over $22 million.

Costa Rican government is now developing the Future Footprint (Huella del Futuro) project. About planting 200,000 trees will be planted in the country’s northern zone in the first phase with a view to reforest and reconstruct landscapes and create jobs for the wellbeing of people and the land.

Photo of Costa Rica’s keel billed toucan by FINTAN O’ BRIEN from Pixabay.

See UNCCD website.

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