quotes Three Rio conventions — a moment of opportunity

13 April 2024
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Updated 12 April 2024

Three Rio conventions — a moment of opportunity

In an unprecedented move, the final months of 2024 will mark a historic alignment in the global environmental calendar. For the first time, the three pivotal Rio conventions — on biological diversity, climate change, and desertification — will take place in consecutive months: October, November and December.

This scheduling is not just a matter of logistics, but also represents a significant opportunity to foster an integrated approach to addressing some of the planet’s most pressing environmental issues. At these gatherings, leaders will share a platform for synergizing efforts across different, but interconnected, environmental challenges, setting the stage for a unified global response.

The origins of these conventions date back to the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, a landmark event in global environmental diplomacy. Amid growing concerns over the degradation of Earth’s ecosystems and the looming threat of climate change, the international community came together to lay the foundation for sustainable development. The conventions were born out of a collective realization: We needed to take action, on behalf of the planet and on behalf of our shared civilization. Each subsequent convention set out with distinct objectives: preserving biodiversity, combating climate change, and halting desertification, respectively. Together, they push forth a holistic approach to sustainability and environmental protection.

The Climate Change Convention, or COP, often dominates public and media discourse, overshadowing its counterparts due to the immediacy and visibility of climate-related disasters. In contrast, the Convention on Desertification addresses the less visible, but equally severe, issue of land degradation. This convention tackles not just desertification in the narrow sense but a broader spectrum of land degradation challenges affecting food security and environmental sustainability. Misconceptions about desertification — often seen as a localized or less urgent issue — undermine the critical importance of combating land degradation on a global scale.

The attention paid to the Climate Change Convention should come as no surprise. According to the Brookings Institute, increasingly more attention is paid each year by the public to the issues of climate change. There were almost 50,000 attendees at COP28, while the COP15 conference on desertification in Cote D’Ivoire attracted only 7,000 attendees. Desertification, like other forms of land degradation, is catastrophic in its own right, however: It threatens our food system and, as a result, our entire way of life.

Amid growing concerns over the degradation of Earth’s ecosystems, the international community came together to lay the foundation for sustainable development.

That is not all. Desertification even threatens the air that we breathe. The way it works is this. When land turns into desert, soil carbon is released into the atmosphere, and mixing with nitrous oxide, it, too, contributes to climate change. COP15 ought to have won more attention, it is clear, once we understand the impact that land degradation can have on our life — and the degree to which the media has often missed the mark reporting on it.

As we understand the danger that desertification poses, we should understand then the opportunity that we have to position it alongside climate change as one of the great challenges that our global society faces. Hosting the three conventions consecutively presents a multitude of benefits. It underscores, perhaps most critically, the interconnectedness of their core issues — biodiversity loss, climate change, and desertification — and highlights the need for a coordinated approach. This integrated scheduling can enhance efficiency, foster stronger international collaboration, and amplify the global response to environmental crises. By convening stakeholders from diverse sectors and regions, the conventions can leverage shared knowledge and strategies, creating a more cohesive and impactful environmental agenda.

The unique scheduling of the Rio conventions in 2024 thus presents an unparalleled opportunity for global environmental action. It is a clarion call to governments, NGOs, and the international community to harness this moment for greater collaboration, and a more holistic approach to solving the planet’s environmental challenges. This convergence should serve as a catalyst for dialogue and innovation in the way we organize and conduct these vital global forums. By seizing this moment, we can foster a more coordinated and effective response to the environmental crises that threaten our planet, ensuring a healthier, more sustainable world for present and future generations.

I am calling on governments, NGOs, and the international community at large to seize this moment, leveraging the three conventions in a cross-sectorial integration manner that also applies a collective impact methodology and mindset in order to champion a more holistic and comprehensive approach to solving our environment’s challenges. Let us open a new dialogue — one that covers all the difficulties that our present and future generations are up against.

Abeer S. Al-Saud is an op-ed writer for Arab News, exploring development, peace, and cultural topics. The views expressed in this piece are personal. X: @abeersalsaud