New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called for a 'Global Water Agenda' to address climate change and land degradation and announced that India would restore 26 million hectares of degraded land.
Speaking at the 14th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD-COP14) in Greater Noida, PM Modi also announced a 'Centre of Excellence' for south-to-south cooperation to help other countries achieve their land degradation neutrality (LDN) targets.
Addressing the session on the theme of 'Investing in Land, Unlocking Opportunities', the Prime Minister said: "I call upon the leadership of UNCCD to create a global water action agenda which is central to the land degradation neutrality strategy."
He added, "I would like to draw your attention to another land degradation; it is the menace of plastic waste. My government has announced that India will put an end to single-use plastic in the coming years. The time has come for the world to say goodbye to single-use plastic."
PM Modi said India took pride in using remote sensing and space technology for multiple applications, including land restoration. “We are working with a motto of per drop more crop. At the same time, we are also focusing on zero budget natural farming. Going forward, India would be happy to propose initiatives for greater South-South cooperation in addressing issues of climate change, biodiversity and land degradation," he said.
The Prime Minister repeatedly drew upon India's cultural and spiritual relationship with land, and also the earth as a whole. He said, "For ages, we in India have always given importance to land. In Indian culture, the earth is held as sacred and treated as a mother. While getting up in the morning, when we touch the earth with our feet, we seek forgiveness from mother earth and pray.... climate and environment impacts both biodiversity and land. It is widely accepted that the world is facing the negative impact of climate change; this is seen in the loss of land, and plants and animal species...of becoming extinct."
While noting the diverse impact of climate change on degrading land, ranging from rising sea levels to erratic rainfall and dust storms, Modi said, "Total area restored from land degradation in India to increase from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares." He also added that India's tree cover has increased by 0.8 million hectares between 2015 and 2017.
PM Modi also spoke about the government's Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority funds and said: "I am happy to share that only last week, funds amounting to nearly six billion US dollars have been released to the provincial governments in lieu of such diversion for development of forest lands." He listed a series of achievements of the government, ranging from its success in the Swachh Bharat Mission, to its plans to ban single-use plastic. "The way ahead is behavioural change," he added.
Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said: "There is no escaping the powerful timing of this COP. On one hand, the IPCC report has laid down the science...on the other hand, we are just about to have the UN summits in New York from September 23". He said that the arguments reached during the COP would shape how humanity works towards restoring and protecting the Earth.
"We no longer have the luxury of debating the targets for 10 years," added Amina Jane Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations at UNCCD-COP. "These times are not normal...we need massive effort... the latest scientific data shows that massive effort is painfully overdue. A million species face extinction, threatening everything that we eat, drink and breathe. The lives of half of the planet are affected by land degradation," she added.
"If you act, you don't need to choose between social, economic and environmental progress," she argued.