ENB:04:22 [Next] . [Previous] . [Contents]


While the first session of the INCD provided the context and set the tone for the series of negotiating sessions to follow, it was the second session where the work of elaborating a convention to combat desertification actually began. During this two-week session, delegates progressed from stating their initial positions to clarifying areas of convergence and divergence.

It is often useful to analyze negotiations in terms of phases or stages. In each phase, the focus is different -- identifying and defining the problem, exchanging statements of initial positions, drafting, negotiating, and reaching consensus on the final, most difficult details. The first phase of the INCD negotiating process took place at the first session in Nairobi during the information sharing segment. During this initial phase delegates identified the scope and magnitude of the problem, its primary causes, and the type of international action required to address the issue. This phase also gave delegates with a shared body of knowledge.

The second phase of the process began during the second week in Nairobi. During this phase, delegates usually explore various alternative packages, and attempt to reach some tentative, conditional understandings on the key issues. This is also the phase where initial coalitions and groups start to coalesce, as delegates determine shared priorities. In Nairobi, delegates reached agreement on the nature and structure of the Convention. They also requested the Secretariat to compile the various substantive suggestions and proposals presented by governments into a single compilation text. It was this text that served as the basis for negotiations at the second session. During the two weeks of discussion of this compilation text by the two working groups in Geneva, governments continued to state their initial positions on the various sections of the Convention. Further areas of convergence and divergence began to emerge. It is only when delegates start to narrow the areas of divergence and attempt to reach consensus will the next phase -- negotiating -- actually begin.

The discussions on the compilation text were characterized by a sense of cooperation and a desire to make progress. Most delegations arrived at the second session with clearly defined positions and specific suggestions to enable the Secretariat to prepare a draft of the Convention for the next session. The Organization of African Unity had prepared specific drafting suggestions for each section of the Convention. Many other delegations proposed that certain sections of the OAU draft should serve as the basis for further negotiation. As a result of this positive atmosphere and the high level of preparation, the Working Groups were able to complete a full reading of the compilation text and set in motion the process that will enable delegates to begin actual negotiations in New York.

Already, there appears to be consensus on a number of specific items. Working Group I agreed on the need for: a clear and concise preamble that refers to the history of desertification in the UN system; clear and concise objectives; commitments that are central to the Convention and articulated at different levels (local, regional and international); and for these commitments to be clear, specific, and implementable. National action programmes should be forward-looking, long-term, and contain provisions for regular review, assessment and adjustment. Individual countries should determine what is necessary for their own national plans and local populations should be involved in the development of national plans.

In the section on sub-regional action programmes, there was consensus that sub-regional programmes should complement national programmes, strengthen national capabilities, and increase the cooperation between them. All delegates supported the need to address capacity building and many stressed that capacity building is the cornerstone of the Convention. Most delegates saw a need for a public awareness strategy and improved education on drought and desertification at all levels. All delegates stressed the need for increased cooperation and coordination between North and South, South and South, and among bilateral and multilateral donors.

In its discussion on research and development, Working Group II agreed on the use of local knowledge and experiences and a bottom-up approach. There was also agreement on the need for early warning systems; accessibility of information; and the need to identify information needs at the local, national and sub-regional levels. On the issue of transfer of technology and cooperation, there was consensus on: the need to involve the private sector and governments; the use of existing institutions for technology transfer; the need for training; additional finances to ensure accessibility; the need for culturally-relevant technology; and the need to guard against dumping. Delegates agreed to defer substantive discussion on institutions and procedural matters until agreement is reached on the nature of the Convention and the issue of regional instruments. Nevertheless, some converging views did in fact emerge. These included: the necessity of the Conference of Parties and the Secretariat; the requirement for at least 30 ratifications for the Convention to enter into force; and the recommendation that the Convention should be signed at the Heads of State level.

There are also a number of areas where delegates expressed diverging views. In the introductory elements to the Convention, delegates disagreed on the following: should the causes of desertification be mentioned in the preamble; what is the relationship between poverty and desertification and how should this be treated in the Convention; should there be a separate section on principles; and if there is a separate section on principles, which principles should be included; and what specific objectives should be enumerated within the Convention (i.e., desertification, drought, poverty alleviation). There were also differences of opinion as to the need for a separate section on commitments or whether the commitments should be contained within each section of the Convention. Divergent views regarding the need to establish new institutions were expressed throughout the discussions in both working groups. Most delegates agreed that existing institutions should be strengthened before new ones are established. However, many developing country delegates continued to support the creation of new institutions, while many industrialized countries did not. The question of centralized versus decentralized institutions also arose. In the discussions on technology transfer, there was no agreement on the need to address the issue of alternative energy or demand-driven technology. On institutions and procedural matters, divergent views were expressed on the establishment of subsidiary bodies: should there be a scientific and technical advisory board to advise the Conference of Parties; should there be a monitoring and evaluation institution; and who should establish these institutions, the Conference of Parties or the INCD.

The two areas that provoked the widest divergence of views were financial resources and mechanisms and regional instruments. Although there appeared to be agreement on the need for improved donor coordination and more effective utilization of existing funds, disagreement prevailed in a number of areas. These include: new and additional resources; establishment of a special fund; a new window in the GEF to fund desertification; and mandating the contribution of 0.7% of GNP for development assistance. Certain delegates appeared to have changed their positions since the Nairobi meeting. In Nairobi, many more developing countries had called for a new window in the GEF, whereas in Geneva the emphasis seemed to shift away from the GEF and towards the establishment of a special fund.

As in Nairobi, the most difficult issue of the session was the preparation of regional instruments and the future work of the Committee. However, unlike Nairobi, the G-77 was able to meet and agree on a common position. Two factors enabled this agreement: the arrival of the delegate from Colombia and the agreement on a formula with regard to regional instruments. Colombia's absence in Nairobi and Brazil's position of acting Chair of the G-77 proved to be explosive once Brazil took the uncompromising position in support of regional instruments for Latin America and Asia to be negotiated simultaneously with the instrument for Africa. In Geneva, when it appeared as though Brazil would be acting Chair of the G-77 once again, a number of delegations refused to allow the G-77 to meet. It was not until Colombia arrived and took the Chair that the G-77 was able to meet, bridge regional differences and agree on a common position. The formula that facilitated G-77 agreement ensured that the Convention and the regional instrument for Africa would be finalized by June 1994 and proposed scheduling a meeting during the interim period pending the entry into force of the Convention to review the situation regarding other regional instruments, thus allowing all necessary regional instruments to enter into force with the Convention.

At this point, however, difficulties developed between the G-77 and the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG) over one major issue: the "global" nature of desertification. Some developed country delegates felt that the term "global" had specific connotations within the Climate Change Convention. In this regard, the responsibility of developed countries had been established and certain obligations assumed. At the INCD, developed countries wanted to avoid any possible linkages that would alter the nature of future assistance, making it, in essence, an obligation. In addition, some delegates felt that by using the word "global" it would allow for a claim to be laid to access GEF funds for combatting desertification.

Despite this problem, most delegates left Geneva with a feeling of optimism. A great deal of progress had been made during the two-week session. As a result, the Convention is clearly beginning to take shape. In order for this positive atmosphere and feeling of accomplishment to continue, delegates must arrive at the next session in New York equally well-prepared and committed to the task of elaborating a Convention that will combat desertification and mitigate drought. But perhaps most importantly delegates and NGOs must bring a shift in thinking to New York. The time has passed for general statements and the restatement of initial positions on the various aspects of the Convention. The time has come to explore the positions of other regional and interest groups and determine where and how consensus can be achieved toward a Convention that can make a difference in the battle against desertification and the effects of drought.

[Return to start of article]