RIYADH — Saudi Arabia and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) have officially inked an agreement, marking the commencement of preparations for the 16th session of the Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP16), set to take place in Riyadh from December 2 to December 13, 2024.

The upcoming COP16 in Riyadh will make history as the largest-ever gathering of UNCCD’s 197 parties. It will also be the first of its kind to be held in the Middle East region and represents the largest multilateral conference ever hosted by Saudi Arabia. Additionally, 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the UNCCD, one of the three major environmental treaties known as the Rio Conventions, alongside climate change and biodiversity.

During the signing ceremony held on Wednesday in Riyadh, Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Eng. Abdulrahman Al Fadley commented, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's decision to host COP16 reflects the commitment of our wise leadership to environmental protection at the national, regional, and international levels. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has launched several groundbreaking environmental projects, such as the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative."

UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw stressed the urgency of the situation, saying, "Today, we are witnessing the alarming rate at which fertile lands are being lost, jeopardizing global stability, prosperity, and sustainability. COP16 in Riyadh must mark a turning point in how we manage our most precious resource — land — and address the global drought emergency collectively."

According to UNCCD data, approximately 40% of the world's land is degraded, impacting half of the global population and posing dire consequences for climate, biodiversity, and livelihoods. To achieve a land-degradation-neutral world, it will be necessary to restore 1.5 billion hectares of land by 2030 if current trends persist.

Droughts are becoming more frequent and severe worldwide, with a 29% increase since 2000, driven by climate change and land management practices. Already, one-quarter of the world's population is affected by droughts, and by 2050, three out of every four people globally are projected to face water scarcity.

The central focus of Riyadh COP16 will be to mobilize governments, businesses, and communities worldwide to expedite action on land restoration and enhance drought resilience, recognizing their pivotal role in ensuring food, water, and energy security. The two-week event will encompass a high-level segment, along with related events such as the Gender Caucus and the Business for Land Forum.

Given that Riyadh is located in one of the world's most water-scarce regions, grappling with desertification and land degradation, COP16 will offer a platform to highlight ongoing efforts in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and beyond, showcasing a transition toward environmental sustainability based on responsible land stewardship.

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