Report of main proceedings for 13 September 1993

2nd Session of the the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the International Convention to Combat Desertification

The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committeefor the elaboration of an international convention to combatdesertification in those countries experiencing serious droughtand/or desertification, particularly in Africa (INCD) began at 3:00pm on Monday afternoon. The Chair, Amb. Bo Kjell‚n, welcomeddelegates and immediately summarized the documents that are beforethe INCD at this session. These include: A/AC.241/11, Adoption ofthe agenda; A/AC.241/12, the substantive document for this session,containing the compilation of government views, statements anddrafting proposals; A/AC.241/9/Add.2, a list of NGOs recommendedfor accreditation; and A/48/226, the report to the General Assemblyof this Committee's organizational and first substantive sessions.

The Committee quickly adopted the agenda for this session and thenreviewed an informal paper regarding the organization of work.Before describing the contents of this informal paper, Kjell‚nreminded delegates of the statement made by UN Secretary-GeneralBoutros Boutros-Ghali to the Fifth Committee on 26 August 1993regarding resources available to the UN and cost-saving measures tobe undertaken between now and the end of the year. These include:no interpretation services for meetings of regional groups nor anymeetings after 6:00 pm. The Committee then adopted the informalpaper on the organization of work. The two working groups will meetfor most of the next two weeks, except for short meetings of thePlenary on Tuesday, Wednesday and next Monday. The working groupsare expected to finish their work next Thursday, to allow time forPlenary discussion on Friday, the last day of the session.

The next item of business was the accreditation of 35 additionalNGOs to the process, which was approved without objection.

The Chair then postponed consideration of Agenda Item 2, Electionof officers. Consultations must still be undertaken on this matter.The Committee will have to elect a new Chair for Working Group II,as Jacques Alliot (France) is recovering from a serious operation.A replacement is expected to be proposed on Tuesday. AVice-Chair/Rapporteur for Working Group I must also be nominated bythe Eastern European Group. Kjell‚n then addressed Agenda Item 3"Elaboration of an international convention to combatdesertification." He referred to the three remaining two-week INCsessions and the need to work efficiently. Kjell‚n stated that themain purpose of this particular session is to review documentA/AC.241/12 "Compilation of Government Views, Statements andDrafting Proposals". Kjell‚n noted that this document was compiledwith the advice of a panel of experts that met in early August. Thedocument is not a consolidation, but rather a compilation text. Theactual process of consolidating the various views will be preparedby the Secretariat in time for the third session of the INCD inJanuary 1994. Kjell‚n called on the two working groups to carry outa careful reading of the entire text. He noted several keychallenges for both groups, including: identifying the areas ofconsensus; identifying the areas of divergence and defining them asspecifically as possible; identifying areas requiring more expertadvice; and, finally, noting those areas where informalconsultations between interested delegations could facilitatenegotiations.

Kjell‚n also mentioned the need to reach agreement on the mandatesfor the two Working Groups and the procedures for negotiation ofthe regional agreements. He called on delegations to adopt decision1/3 as contained in document 48/226. He stated that this documentwas fundamentally acceptable to most delegations in Nairobi. Theacceptance of this text will enable the working groups to commencetheir substantive work. The Plenary was able to adopt the text withno objections.

Kjell‚n then described a non-paper that he prepared on thedevelopment of regional instruments. It addresses: the need totreat the dryland problem as a truly global one while stillrecognizing the particular vulnerability of Africa; the need forprompt-start arrangements; the importance of negotiating theinstruments for other regions according to the modalities agreed toat this meeting. On that point, Kjell‚n proposed the followingprocess: the first step would include the conclusion of thenegotiations for the actual Convention. A regional instrument forAfrica would be concluded simultaneously to serve as a blueprintfor other regional agreements. The second step would include thecommencement of negotiations for the regional instruments for Asiaand Latin America. This step would involve the preparation of casestudies, regional conferences and the actual drafting of legalinstruments.

Kjell‚n stated that he will convene an informal consultation onWednesday afternoon to address his non-paper. He will circulate adraft decision on Thursday.

Kjell‚n then stated that the priority should be given at thismeeting to the Convention itself. He expressed his strong desirethat the Convention not be concluded as a mere frameworkinstrument, but rather a text with substantive commitments. Inorder to be viable, the text would require sufficient strength sothat it could stand alone, independent of any additional documents.Kjell‚n suggested that the regional instruments should spell outvery concrete actions that could implement the objectives of theactual Convention. Kjell‚n noted the lack of precedents for thisConvention but charged delegates with the task of forging adocument that will make a difference.

The delegate of Brazil welcomed decision 1/3, which was justapproved by the INCD. His government recognized that the issue ofdesertification had been given due prominence because of theefforts of the African governments. He supported the proposal of aConvention with instruments for all regions. He also stressed thatthe Convention only be brought into force when all the regionalinstruments are completed.

The next speaker was the Executive Secretary, Arba Diallo, whohighlighted the contents of the Secretariat's document A/AC.241/12.He said the document was requested by governments in Nairobi andregretted that it is still not available in all official languages,since a number of governments did not submit their proposals by 1July deadline. This document is based on the main thrust and ideaspresented by governments. As such, it is not a literal translation.Rather, it incorporates proposals from governments, the OAU,international agencies, and members of international group ofexperts who are assisting the Secretariat. He commended the effortsof Switzerland, Mali, Benin and Spain for their preparatory workfor the process and the work of the subsidiary groups of the panelof experts who examined the links between desertification andbiodiversity, climate change and alternative energy. He suggestedthat the uncertainties and risks of human activities anddesertification as a food security issue should be covered. TheConvention should also depict a holistic response includingecological and socio-economic factors; the use of local knowledgein addressing the problem; and the relationship betweendesertification and global trade.

The case studies that were intended to be commenced during thefirst half of 1993 have not begun due to financial constraints.Diallo expressed hope that studies in Latin America and Asia willbegin by the end of the year. Notwithstanding, national supportmissions have been established to develop a methodology and workschedule for submission by January 1994. In Africa, IGADD, SADC andother intergovernmental organizations, as well as NGOs, areconducting supplementary work that will be useful. A framework onnational studies is being carried out in Mali, Tunisia, Botswanaand Uganda, some of which will be presented in this session by theMinisters of Tunisia and Mali. Regional studies are beingundertaken by AMU, CILSS and SADC. Instead of having four regionalmeetings, there will only be one in Geneva. The NGOs contributionwas made during the Bamako meeting, which was supported by theSecretariat and NGLS. Their report will be made tomorrow. Diallounderscored the importance of NGOs in the process, adding that theyhighlighted the role of local communities. He described theprecarious situation of professional staffing at the Secretariatand thanked the Swiss and Canadian governments for facilitating theaddition of two more professional staff members. He expressed hopethat one more would be added.

The Chair then opened the floor to a number of ministers who hadcome to address the Committee.

MALI: The Environment Minister, Mohamed Ag Erlaf, describedthe status of the desertification problem in Mali. 58 percent ofthe country is desertified, 30 percent of the country is threatenedwith desertification, and 12 percent is at a very precarious stage.He briefly identified the ecological, socio-economic and politicalconsequences of desertification and went on to outline the manyadvantages of the Convention, especially the knowledge that will beacquired from the case studies. He described the process that Malihas used in the case studies, including the choice of sites, thecollection of data, local and national consultations, and thepreparation of a final programme of action. He requested that thepreamble to the Convention contain special reference to the needfor poverty eradication, the role that desertification and droughtplay as sources of economic instability, and the need for equitabletechnology transfer.

KAZAKHSTAN: The Minister of the Environment, A. Shustov,said that Kazakhstan is one the former Soviet republics that hassuffered most from ecological problems, especially desertification.The intensification and concentration of agricultural production,overuse of pastoral lands, regulation of water sources, mono-cropagriculture, and extensive use of pesticides have all led to landdegradation, reduction of food supplies and overgrazing. Thedeteriorating environment has led to increasing migration of nativepopulations. The main areas of crisis are near the Aral and CaspianSeas. The current economic problems in Kazakhstan and the delay ininfrastructural development has increased the magnitude of theproblem and its effect on human lives. He urged the Committee toadopt a special instrument dealing with desertification in Asia.

JAPAN: The delegate expressed gratitude for theSecretariat's efforts to forge consensus on the mandate of theWorking Groups and their work on the draft text of the Convention.He then outlined the Japanese government view on the Convention: ingeneral, the Convention should be clear and concise to avoidambiguity during implementation; it is important to assess thereasons why some projects to combat desertification have failed;the text should be relevant to all regions without being specificto any one region since the universality of the problem isimportant; actions to combat desertification are undertaken at thenational and regional levels and take into considerationsocio-economic considerations; and the Convention should be basedon the premise that those countries affected should develop localinitiatives with the assistance of the international community. Itis important to consider land users, especially women, who play animportant role in combatting desertification. He pointed out thatdrought should be defined in relation to desertification. Regardingthe obligation of the parties to the Convention, he proposed thatthe parties affected by desertification should prepare, publish andmake available national action plans to combat desertification andthat developed countries assist developing countries in theformulation and implementation of the action plan. He alsomentioned the importance of financing appropriate projects,encouraging research and technical cooperation, informationexchange and cooperation between agencies. He proposed that UNEPcompile the causes of desertification to facilitate the role of theSecretariat.

OAU: The representative from the OAU noted the considerableprogress that has been made at various OAU meetings held sinceNairobi, which resulted in a preliminary paper that was presentedto the INCD.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR TODAY

BUREAU: The Bureau will meet this morning at 9:30. Thismeeting should deal with procedural matters, such as the electionsto fill the vacant positions on the bureaus of the Committee andthe working groups, as well as the way to approach the programme ofwork and the Chair's informal paper on regional instruments.

PLENARY: The Plenary will convene this morning at 10:00 amin Conference Room XIX. It is expected that the first item on theagenda will be the election of officers. Yesterday afternoon, theWestern Europe and Others Group endorsed Anne de Lattre (France) toreplace Jacques Alliot (France) as the Chair of Working Group II.De Lattre is the former head of the Club du Sahel at the OECD. Itis also hoped that the Eastern European Group will nominate itscandidate for the Vice Chair/Rapporteur of Working Group I.

The Plenary will then hear statements from the following: AnatoleGomtirbou Tiendrebeogo, Minister of Environment and Tourism(Burkina Faso); Maria Helena Semedo, Minister of Fisheries,Agriculture and Rural Development (Cape Verde); A. Ovchinnikov,Deputy Minister of Hydrometeorology (Uzbekistan); the Minister forEnvironment from Mongolia; and Tunisia. The Minister of theEnvironment from Tajikistan may also speak. Dominic Walubengo ofKENGO will then present the report of the NGO Coordination Meeting,which took place in Bamako, Mali from 16-20 August.

WORKING GROUP I: Working Group I will take up discussions onthe Preamble today. It is expected that discussions will proceedsmoothly. In essence, the Preamble will address the general issuessuch as the eradication of poverty and macro-economic issues suchas trade and debt relief.

WORKING GROUP II: Working Group II will address thespecific definitions that will be outlined in the actualConvention. A number of contentious issues may arise: whether thedefinition of desertification as contained in Agenda 21 will bereopened; how much emphasis should be placed on the links withclimate change; and whether drought should be specifically defined.

NGOS: NGOs will have a coordination meeting every day from9:00-10:00 am in Room 3056. In addition, ECO, the NGOnewspaper, will meet every day from 2:00-3:00 pm in Room 3056. NGOshad intended to convene a daily wrap-up session at 6:00 pm,however, due to UN cost-saving measures, this will not be possible.Look for an announcement today regarding alternative plans.

Participants

Negotiating blocs
African Union
Western Europe and Others Group
Non-state coalitions
NGOs

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