Saudi Arabia to host historic COP16 in Riyadh

Strengthening international efforts to reduce land degradation and desertification
Saudi Arabia to host historic COP16 in Riyadh
2024 marks the thirtieth anniversary of UNCCD (Image source: SPA)

Saudi Arabia and the United Nations recently signed an agreement to hold the 16th session of the Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP16) in Riyadh from 2-13 December 2024. This conference will be the largest meeting ever of the 197 parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Moreover, it is the first time the Middle East will host this conference. Besides, 2024 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the UNCCD, one of the three major environmental treaties known as the Rio Conventions, alongside climate change and biodiversity.

Environment protection

During the signing ceremony, H.E. Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen Alfadley, minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, said: “The hosting of the conference (COP16) in Saudi Arabia reflects the commitment of the wise leadership to environmental protection at the national, regional, and international levels. Additionally, Saudi Arabia launched several groundbreaking environmental projects, such as the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative.”  Therefore, the kingdom attached great importance to hosting COP16 as it contributes to achieving environmental goals locally and internationally.

Holding COP16 at this stage is of great importance in light of the urgent need to strengthen international efforts to reduce land degradation and desertification. Desertification and land degradation greatly affect the environmental, economic, and social aspects of human life. Hence, they affect about 3 billion people and cause an estimated $6 trillion in lost ecological services.

Therefore, COP16 provides an effective platform for joint action for all member states, international organizations, and relevant parties. It is a platform to develop and strengthen the necessary mechanisms and procedures to combat desertification and land degradation. Hence, COP16 supports intensifying global efforts to reduce desertification and land degradation and to sustain the environment and natural resources for future generations.

Loss of fertile lands

Commenting on the agreement, UNCCD Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw, said: “Today, we are losing fertile lands at an alarming rate, jeopardizing 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, up to 40 percent of the world’s land has degraded. This affects half of humanity and holds dire consequences for the climate, biodiversity, and livelihoods. If current trends continue, restoring 1.5 billion hectares of land by 2030 will be necessary to achieve a land-degradation-neutral world.


Thiaw also noted that droughts are striking more often and stronger around the world. They have increased by 29 percent since the year 2000 due to climate change and mismanagement of land. He also noted that a quarter of the world’s population is affected by droughts. It is also expected that three out of every four people around the world will face water scarcity by 2050.

Therefore, the Riyadh COP16 conference will focus on mobilizing governments, companies, and communities around the world to accelerate action on land restoration and drought resilience as the cornerstone of food, water, and energy security.

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Riyadh COP16

COP16 will be a two-week event that will feature a high-level segment in addition to associated events such as the Gender Caucus and the Business for Land Forum.

COp16 will also take place in the most water-scarce region and one that is severely affected by desertification and land degradation. Therefore, it will showcase efforts underway in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East region, and beyond towards a green transition based on sustainable land stewardship.

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