Opening speech on the occasion of the “Enhanced Cross-Sectoral Land Management through Land Use Pressure Reduction and Planning“ project closing event

Mr Hans Friedrich Schodder, UN Resident Coordinator a.i.

Dear Assistant Minister Perovic, dear Mr. Radovic, dear colleagues, partners and friends

It is an honour for me to greet you here today on behalf of the UN Country Team in Serbia and to join you in marking the successful conclusion of this important project.

Land management is a local, national and global challenge.  Soil is a valuable and non-renewable natural resource that takes only a moment to destroy but a lifetime to replenish.  Right now, our soil is facing unprecedented stress through degradation, deforestation, large scale industrial farming, climate change and urbanization.

The Climate Action Summit of two weeks ago admonished States and other stakeholders - all of us - to urgently redouble our efforts to save humanity by greatly reducing pollution, by protecting and improving our environment.

Today we gather to conclude a project which created a turning point in Serbia’s efforts to combat land degradation and advance soil restoration.  The proactive approach and strong commitment of all project partners yielded many concrete and encouraging results.  I would like to also congratulate you on demonstrating the power of joint action in tackling the long overdue issue of historical pollution through the investigation of abandoned industrial sites in the Republic of Serbia.  By identifying over 700 contaminated and potentially contaminated sites throughout the country, by performing soil sampling on 32 sites and by prioritising 14 sites for remediation, the project laid the groundwork for cleaner soil, putting Serbia in good stead for further clean-up actions.

The successful conclusion of this project provides momentum for important future action.  I would like to herewith reconfirm that we stand ready to further engage in and scale up activities in the improvement of land management and an effective protection and preservation of the soil.

Allow me to thank the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency for their valuable support of UN Environment’s efforts, and to express gratitude to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which funded this project, and to the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea whose significant additional contributions allowed to extend its scope and to multiply its effects.

Many Sustainable Development Goals have targets that highlight the importance of land-management and soil.  Soil is crucial for attaining food security (SDG 2) as it is responsible for more than 95% of global food production.  How can we secure enough food resources for the world’s growing population if we continue losing fertile land?  As the world’s largest carbon sink, soil can help reverse climate change through carbon sequestration and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. SDG target 15.3. explicitly commits States to combat desertification, to restore degraded land and soil and to achieve a land-degradation-neutrality by 2030.

Responsible and sustainable land management is of utmost importance.  Closing one successful project must not entice us to lose attention or momentum.  All stakeholders in the scientific community, general public, business, and media, in civil society, international organizations, local and national authorities, Parliament and Government, need to continue pressing for decisive action.  At the end of the day, all of us sharing this planet are partners in soil protection and preservation.

The UN Country Team in Serbia will remain committed to supporting the Government in advancing adequately ambitious environmental and climate actions.  Thanks to the expertise and dedication of our team, combatting land degradation and advancing its restoration, will remain high on the agenda of the United Nations.

 

Thank you.

Speech by
Author
Hans Friedrich Schodder
Representative
UNHCR
Hans Friedrich Schodder, UNHCR Serbia Representative
UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Environment
United Nations Environment Programme