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Working Group I, chaired by Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria), discussed two of the introductory elements of the Convention: the preamble and principles.

PREAMBLE: A few delegates questioned the order of topics under discussion. The US, supported by the EC, thought it best to minimize discussion on the preamble until after discussions on other substantive parts of the Convention. The Chair said that it is obvious that the Working Group cannot agree on the exact content of the preamble at this time, but he wanted to hear comments.

There appeared to be consensus on the need for a clear and concise preamble that contains reference to the history of desertification in the UN system. Australia, supported by many other delegates, said that the preamble should include: the causes of desertification; the link between desertification and other problems, including demographic factors, refugees, poverty and trade flows; the importance of community involvement; and the need to coordinate existing regional and international programmes. Canada and Mauritania added the importance of Africa to the list. Brazil did not think that the causes of desertification should be listed.

Brazil thought that a number of benchmark documents should be mentioned, including the 1977 Plan of Action, Chapter 12 of Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration, specifically principles 2,3,5,7,8 and 10. Malaysia said it was logical to recall the genesis of this Convention, but insisted that the definition of desertification in Chapter 12 of Agenda 21 should be retained.

There appeared to be only two contentious points in the discussion. The EC, supported by Canada, recognized the need to make reference to the widespread nature of desertification, however, they do not want to refer to desertification as a "global" problem, as this has a special meaning with regard to incremental costs and global benefits (ie, a window for desertification in the GEF). A number of countries, including India, Armenia, Brazil and Burkina Faso, disagreed. The second point addressed the relationship between poverty and desertification. Some countries, including C“te d'Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Bolivia, Botswana, Kenya, and Mauritania, urged that the preamble mention this relationship. The EC did not agree.

Norway, supported by the US, mentioned the possibility of merging the preamble and the principles sections in light of the overlap. Nigeria said that the preamble and principles are not mutually exclusive. This argument continued during the discussion on the principles section.

PRINCIPLES: The main focus of this discussion was whether there should be a section on principles and, if so, what should be included. Developing countries argued for a separate section on principles, as exists in the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions. Mali listed the nine principles proposed by the OAU: sovereignty over resources; sovereignty in international cooperation programmes; collective responsibility in the maintenance of a sound and healthy environment; cooperation and partnership; international solidarity; shared but differentiated responsibility; decentralization of decision-making; subsidiarity; and integrated approaches. Gambia added the precautionary principle and the principle of public participation to this list. Brazil listed a number of principles that should be included, all of which are part of the Rio Declaration. Sweden said that the Rio Declaration should be the point of departure.

The US, supported by the UK, argued against a separate chapter as there is the problem of legal ambiguity. A number of countries, including Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malaysia sought clarification on what was meant by legal ambiguity. Cameroon said the role of the Committee is to overcome ambiguities rather than flee from them.

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