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When Chair Bo Kjell�n brought down his gavel to open the eighth session of the INCD at 3:15 pm on 5 February 1996, few delegates seemed convinced that this session should start at all. Many arrived in Geneva questioning the necessity of a session only six months after the last one. At the end of the two-week session, the modest achievements induced divergent views. Experienced negotiators had arrived with low expectations and seemed to think that the lack of decisions was a natural ingredient in the negotiation process. Some left feeling disappointed while others were positive and said remaining work could warrant an eleventh INCD session.

Most delegates agreed that negotiations moved slowly and pointed to common reasons for the pace. Progress occurred when preparation and key people coincided at the right point in negotiations, as in discussions of the CST. When these factors were lacking, particularly in sensitive financial matters, negotiations halted and gave way to relatively limited activity in the form of consultations within or between regional groups. Without negotiating texts, and with delegations unwilling or unable to concur on presentation of possible negotiating texts, little happened.

Some delegates noted that the pace was slow because of incomplete organization within regional groups. This was not surprising. In fact, at the last session, developing countries expressed a preference for holding this session in New York where the G-77 is better organized. Another explanation was that documents reached delegates late, preventing some regional groups from greater coordination prior to their arrival in Geneva.

Expectations for substantive achievement were higher than at INCD-7, when many delegates felt a general exchange of views was sufficient for that stage in the INCD process. At INCD-8, the lack of negotiations in some areas caused one delegate to say that compared to Nairobi, there was no "passion" in Geneva. The pace became a motivation behind OECD proposals to restructure and shorten future INCD sessions. Financial concerns related to the UN's budget crisis were another undercurrent beneath many INCD-8 discussions. These concerns were a key element in curtailed debates on the Permanent Secretariat and, to a certain extent, programme and budget.

Delegates pointed to the interrelationship with other conventions as the final limiting factor on the work of INCD-8. Negotiations on CCD's rules of procedure and financial rules cannot overtake negotiations on similar subjects in the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions, because those conventions are in force and some delegates say the procedural debates should be resolved across the treaties. Constant references to precedent caused some delegates to doubt whether the CCD has the same status as these other two conventions.

Another cause for concern during the session related to the debate on urgent action for Africa and action in other regions. While the Chair said the objective was to provide information on what is happening and to learn lessons for further implementation, many delegates disagreed with the manner in which the debate was organized and the way in which issues were presented.

The proportionately large amount of time allocated to the African region led some delegates to question the sufficient attention granted to other regions. Some observers argued that it was the numerous complaints by delegates from the non-African developing regions at INCD-7 that inspired accelerated activity in these regions since that session. The possible influence of reports in the sessions on implementation becomes more critical in light of proposals that would re-organize work in a way that marginalizes the reporting sessions.

Some observers and delegations see the reporting sessions as important, but affected and donor countries alike voiced frustration over each other's overly general statements. Some delegates said negotiators should address the inability of governments working in the same regions to achieve partnership instead of viewing reduction of reporting sessions as the solution.

Informally, developing country delegates said that partnership building that donors want them to initiate was difficult to attain. They say staff from donor countries never turn up for meetings and are unaware of the CCD and processes of accessing funds. Developed countries responded that desertification is not mentioned as a priority when they conduct missions to affected countries. In some instances, even where new funding has been set aside requests have not yet been received. This points to poor information flows and lack of national political will in both cases, which both sides say have slowed progress.

As processes of consultation and coordination are still not well understood, greater consideration should also be given to the negotiations on the agenda item on communication of information and reporting. The type of information donors think is useful and what developing countries feel is needed should be used as a basis to define a set of parameters that can be used to measure progress.

Two regions revealed gaps that could affect the implementation of the CCD. The division of Africa into subregions left Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Cameroon isolated. This prompted Cameroon to suggest that a subregional body should be designated with responsibility to assist Central Africa in CCD implementation. Some delegates were quick to point out that the absence of a subregional body may indicate that the problem does not exist there. Others noted that coordinated efforts are needed in the Central African countries if the problems of drought and desertification are to be dealt with effectively in Africa.

The Russian Federation stunned many delegates with the announcement that it is unlikely to ratify the Convention in view of the Convention's omission of countries with economies in transition. Although some delegates were sympathetic to their situation, they said the pursuit of a regional annex during the negotiation of the Convention would have been the best option. Given the current circumstances, some delegates thought that pursuing the matter within the UN General Assembly would be more promising.

On the positive side, the negotiations on the scientific and technological cooperation seemed to be the one area where delegates could point to having made progress. Discussions moved beyond details such as whether experts in the Committee on Science and Technology (CST) would have to provide CV's, a topic at INCD-7. Delegates sought means to most effectively tie the CST and the ad hoc panels to the COP, emphasizing that the CST is subsidiary to the COP. Delegates wanted to keep the CST, its Bureau and the ad hoc panels small and efficient, yet demands for geographic, multidisciplinary, gender, NGO, and IGO representation may complicate selection of ad hoc panel members. Considerable discussion was spent on the availability of information, with emphasis on NGO representation to provide local knowledge and expertise. The agreement that the results of the work of the CST "shall be in the public domain" may provoke discussion at INCD-9.

NGOs praised delegates' prioritization of local knowledge and expertise and NGO participation as a sign that participation, a central principle of the Convention, is being written into implementation structures. NGOs had targeted CST deliberations at INCD-8 with some success getting their proposals for attention to women, local peoples, and traditional and local knowledge and technology incorporated and adopted by the governments. Some have observed that collaborative initiatives between national governments and NGOs laid the basis for the NGOs' success. Others noted that good organization, coordination and pointed interventions made the difference.

The areas where the least progress occurred were negotiations on the GM and the financial rules. The causes can be attributed to the same factors. Delegates said documents on the GM were distributed late, limiting preparation of positions prior to the meeting. The documents discussed in this and other subjects were compilation texts rather than negotiating texts, triggering maneuvers around whose basic document would become the negotiating text. Unlike during the negotiation of the CCD when the G-77 and China, and in particular Africa, set the pace by providing draft text and consolidating positions well in advance, at INCD-8 they only managed to develop a concerted position on the GM on the last day of the session. Individual participation, or lack thereof, played a part as well. Some delegates noted that key negotiators with leadership and a historical perspective on the financial issues were missing along with their knowledge and ability to move negotiations forward.

Delegates say two visions of the GM are emerging. The one supported by many developing country delegations would establish a central fund with its own resources. The one described by OECD delegates would provide motivation and be an information source that would leave funds in existing bilateral and multilateral funds. These functions are critical to the Convention's implementation and countries' decisions on ratification, so delegates say the decision cannot be rushed. Some observers noted that the extensive regional group consultations on the GM, Kjell�n's comments to give priority to the GM during the intersessional period and future sessions, and the divergence between the OECD and the G-77 and China indicate the challenges that lie ahead. Steps toward regional coordination and a negotiating text during the intersessional period will be critical.

In spite of these setbacks, many delegates and observers believed that INCD-8's work could contribute to more substantive work at the next session. The new additions to the bureau, progress on the CST and the consolidation of regional positions on the GM may allow INCD-9 to conduct more detailed negotiations. Furthermore, if the ratification process continues at its current rate, delegates will have to increase their pace. However, forces beyond the INCD's control could also have significant effects. Constraints resulting from the UN budget crisis could continue to delay decisions, while procedural issues could gain if progress occurs in other negotiations. The full impact of these changes will only be seen at INCD-9.

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