Saudi Arabia has joined hands with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), marking the commencement of preparations for the monumental 16th session of the convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP16) scheduled to take place in Riyadh from December 2 to December 13, 2024.
This groundbreaking event, the Riyadh COP16, is set to be the largest gathering of UNCCD’s 197 Parties, making it the first of its kind in the Middle East region. Notably, it stands as the largest multilateral conference ever hosted by Saudi Arabia. The significance is further underscored as 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the UNCCD, an integral component of the Rio Conventions alongside climate change and biodiversity treaties.
During the signing ceremony in Riyadh, the Saudi Minister of Environment, Water & Agriculture, who doubles as the COP16 President, Eng. Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen AlFadley expressed the kingdom’s commitment to environmental protection at national, regional and international levels. He highlighted Saudi Arabia’s pivotal role in launching groundbreaking environmental initiatives like the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative.
UNCCD executive secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw emphasised the critical nature of the upcoming Riyadh COP16, stating, “Today, we are losing fertile lands at an alarming rate, jeopardising global stability, prosperity and sustainability. The Riyadh COP16 must mark a turning point in the way we treat our most precious resource – land – and collectively tackle the global drought emergency.”
According to UNCCD data, nearly 40% of the world’s land is currently degraded, impacting half of the global population and posing severe consequences for climate, biodiversity and livelihoods. Addressing this crisis requires the restoration of 1.5 billion hectares of land by 2030 to achieve a land-degradation-neutral world.
Droughts, exacerbated by climate change and land mismanagement, are becoming more frequent and severe worldwide, with a 29 per cent increase since 2000. Already affecting a quarter of the global population, droughts are projected to cause water scarcity for three out of four people worldwide by 2050.
The Riyadh COP16 aims to galvanise global efforts from governments, businesses and communities to expedite action on land restoration and enhance drought resilience – a foundation for ensuring food, water and energy security.
This two-week event will feature a high-level segment and various associated events, including the Gender Caucus and the Business for Land Forum. Taking place in the water-scarce Middle East region, severely affected by desertification and land degradation, the Riyadh COP16 will serve as a platform to showcase ongoing efforts in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and beyond toward a green transition grounded in sustainable land stewardship.