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STRUCTURE AND NATURE OF COMMITMENTS: Thursday morning's session of Working Group I continued discussion of the section on structure and nature of commitments. Many delegates endorsed the structure of the commitments proposed by the African Group and some suggested that this could serve as the basis for further negotiation in New York. There was general consensus that commitments are central to the Convention and that commitments must be taken at different levels: local, national, regional and international. There was a general call for clear, specific commitments that can be implemented. Tunisia pointed out that the lack of clarity in the commitments in the Climate Change Convention has forced the INC to revisit and redefine many of these issues.

Canada stressed that there must be criteria against which commitments can be tested and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for implementation. Gambia added the need to link the various sections of the document, especially the principles and the commitments sections.

Chad and the Central African Republic called for priority commitments for least developed countries. Togo, supported by C“te d'Ivoire, said that commitments are also important with regard to countries that are not yet affected by, but in danger of, desertification.

On the format, two alternatives were put forward: one based on the Climate Change Convention and one based on the Biodiversity Convention. China and Malaysia supported the latter, which includes a part on commitments within each section of the Convention. Zambia preferred a separate section on commitments.

Many delegates, including Japan, mentioned the complementarity of commitments by countries affected by drought and desertification on the one hand and the donors, industrialized countries and international organizations on the other. The need for political commitment, support, and financial, scientific and technical assistance from the international community was also stressed by China, Malaysia, Brazil, India, C“te d'Ivoire and Algeria. Norway said it is willing to take on its share of the financial burden. The US, however, called for better utilization of existing resources. Sweden said there is a need to maximize coordination of resources.

A number of delegates, including Australia, Norway, Zambia, Sweden, Senegal and Peru, recognized that local communities, especially NGOs, indigenous populations, women and youth, should play an important role in the commitments. The US added that commitments should also promote local know-how. China, Syria and Australia mentioned the need for education and public awareness.

Egypt, supported by Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia, commented that the proliferation of institutions should not be a concern, as mentioned in paragraph 60(d) in document A/AC.241/12. He stated that there is ample justification for the establishment of mechanisms to combat desertification.

The EC and Malaysia agreed that the commitments in this convention should not overlap with those in other environmental conventions. Saudi Arabia specifically mentioned that there should be no overlap with the Climate Change Convention.

NATIONAL ACTION PROGRAMMES: The discussion on national action programmes began in the afternoon. Mali introduced the African Group's proposals, which can be found in paragraphs 69-72 of A/AC.241/12. Egypt pointed out that this section should not repeat items covered in the section on commitments or the technical "shopping lists" in Chapter 12 of Agenda 21 and the 1977 Plan of Action to Combat Desertification. The US, the UK and Sweden said that most of these proposals belong in the regional instrument for Africa. The Convention should be brief, concise and more universal in its phrasing. Switzerland and Austria agreed, adding that macro-economic issues should not be resolved in this forum. Some countries, however, wanted to be more specific. Niger said that something should be added regarding crop damage due to parasites and other plagues, livestock production and population policies. The UK supported Niger's comments on population policies. Mauritania suggested reference to protection of animals, the environment, and pest control. Germany said that the African proposals were not concrete enough and do not take into account experiences with previous plans.

Australia said that national plans should be forward-looking and long-term (at least five years). There should be provisions for regular review, assessment and adjustment; criteria should be specific; donor countries should commit to long-term assistance in accordance with national plans; and pastoralism should receive more attention. Norway echoed many of these points.

Egypt and Chile said that the autonomy of States should be respected. In this regard, the US stated that it is up to individual countries to determine what is necessary for their own national plans. China supported the establishment of national centres to monitor and study desertification.

The US stressed that while governments are wonderful at creating plans, they are not so great at implementing them. Austria added that implementation is more important than the programme itself. Norway proposed the establishment of a mechanism for monitoring the implementation of national plans.

France and others alluded to the multiplicity of national plans. The UK said that this Convention should not repeat mistakes of the past. Malaysia and Burkina Faso responded that these plans are rarely implemented because of a lack of resources or know-how. The Russian Federation added that the absence of success is linked to the poor quality of these plans.

Egypt, Nepal, Germany, Sweden, Madagascar, the UK stressed the importance of integrating national action programmes with economic plans and environmental action plans. Zambia, China, India, Kenya, Algeria, Brazil and Chad mentioned the need for international support (including financial resources) for these action plans. Egypt suggested the establishment of a focal point to coordinate action and contributions from donor countries. Germany and UNESCO echoed the need for greater donor coordination to facilitate implementation.

Germany, Lesotho, Australia, the US, the UK, Benin, Argentina and Chad stressed the need to involve local populations in national development planning, execution and follow-up. Algeria said that national planning must take place in a democratic political context. Zambia added that action plans must be demand-driven. Tunisia said that the African proposals can be strengthened by adding the role of women and by establishing and strengthening institutions. Cameroon, on the other hand, warned against confusing national and local plans. It is the responsibility of the government, not local populations or the international community, to draw up these plans.

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