Report of main proceedings for 14 September 1993

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


The Chair, Amb. Bo Kjell‚n, opened the morning's Plenary withdiscussion of Agenda Item 2, Election of officers. The EasternEuropean Group's nomination of Nikita Glazovsky (Russia) as therapporteur was agreed to by the Committee. There was no nominationyet from the Eastern European Group for the Vice Chair/Rapporteurof Working Group I, so this election was postponed. Finally, Ann deLattre (France) was elected Chair of Working Group II, as areplacement for Jacques Alliot (France). The Chair then resumed thegeneral debate.

MONGOLIA: The Environment Minister referred to the need todevelop urgent measures to improve the fate of those people who areliving in desertified areas. The Convention must identify thepriority problems and the machinery needed to combatdesertification. This machinery must be strengthened by financialguarantees. With 40 percent of its territory under the influence ofdesertification, Mongolia is undergoing a difficult period,exacerbated by the transition to a market economy.

CAPE VERDE: Maria Helena Semedo, Minister of Fisheries,Agriculture and Rural Development spoke on behalf of CILSS. Shestated that Chapter 12 in Agenda 21 provides a good basis fordefining desertification. She highlighted the need to recognize therole of women in combatting desertification. She further added thatpoverty will expand if external debt, structural adjustment and theinsufficient transfer of resources continue to prevent developingcountries from achieving sustainable development.

BURKINA FASO: Anatole Gomtirbou Tiendrebeogo, Minister ofEnvironment and Tourism, stated that the agreement to negotiate aglobal convention is one of the major achievements of UNCED. Hereferred to desertification and drought as the primary sources ofpolitical and social instability in those areas affected. TheConvention must set out a practical process that will ensure thatlocal populations receive the assistance they require tosustainably use their land and resources. He noted that the selfishself-interest of certain governments is undermining the overallprocess.

UZBEKISTAN: A. Ovchinnikov, Deputy-Minister ofHydrometeorology, outlined the measures his government hasundertaken to combat desertification: Uzbekistan no longer growsonly cash crops; it has improved approximately 300,000 hectares forgrain production; it has allocated over 33,000 hectares to farmingenterprises; and it has installed 21,000 km of gas and waterpipelines. Uzbekistan is an active participant in preparing theregional desertification programme for central Asia.

TUNISIA: On behalf of the Minister of Environment and LandPlanning, the Tunisian delegate noted that his government'sapproach to combating desertification has been to developcommunity-based projects. About 40,000 hectares of mobile duneshave been stabilized and family planning measures have beenimplemented to reduce the demographic pressures on land.

UNEP: Franklin Cardy, who spoke on behalf of UNEPExecutive-Director Elizabeth Dowdeswell, elaborated on theSecretariat's financial constraints. These are a direct result ofUN funding cutbacks, which, in turn, are due to the failure ofgovernments to honor their pledges. He lamented the apparent lackof commitment to solve developing country agricultural problemswhile the North, according to UNCTAD reports, spends up to US$100billion in annual subsidizes for its farmers. This sum is ten timeswhat is required to resolve the problem of desertification andrehabilitate semi-arid areas. He urged governments to givefinancial support to the INCD process.

SAHARA AND SAHEL OBSERVATORY: Marc Bied-Charreton describedhis organization's aims of enhancing African capacity in combatingdesertification, promoting integrated development closer to theneeds of local populations, enhancing synergies between sectors,and strengthening the role of local populations.

UNSO: Acting Director Samuel Nyambi conveyed the commitmentof UNDP Administrator Gus Speth regarding the INCD process. Hestated that UNSO is convinced that solutions should provide greaterinfluence on the lives of those people who live in dryland areas.A livelihood- centered approach would focus attention first andforemost on the inhabitants of those regions.

KENGO: Dominic Walubengo of KENGO made a statement on behalfof the Bamako NGO Forum. Among the issues raised by NGOs are: theneed to consider land tenure practices; the participation of localpopulations in policies and decision-making; effective extensionprogrammes; proper marketing for crops and animal products;environmental programmes in school curricula; the availability offinancial resources; the creation of local information centres; theimportance of culturally-sensitive donor programmes; and enablingpolitical environments.


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

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

There appeared to be consensus on the need for a clear and concisepreamble that contains reference to the history of desertificationin the UN system. Australia, supported by many other delegates,said that the preamble should include: the causes ofdesertification; the link between desertification and otherproblems, including demographic factors, refugees, poverty andtrade flows; the importance of community involvement; and the needto 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 belisted.

Brazil thought that a number of benchmark documents should bementioned, including the 1977 Plan of Action, Chapter 12 of Agenda21 and the Rio Declaration, specifically principles 2,3,5,7,8 and10. Malaysia said it was logical to recall the genesis of thisConvention, but insisted that the definition of desertification inChapter 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 referenceto the widespread nature of desertification, however, they do notwant to refer to desertification as a "global" problem, as this hasa special meaning with regard to incremental costs and globalbenefits (ie, a window for desertification in the GEF). A number ofcountries, including India, Armenia, Brazil and Burkina Faso,disagreed. The second point addressed the relationship betweenpoverty and desertification. Some countries, including C“ted'Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Bolivia, Botswana, Kenya, andMauritania, urged that the preamble mention this relationship. TheEC did not agree.

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

PRINCIPLES: The main focus of this discussion was whetherthere should be a section on principles and, if so, what should beincluded. Developing countries argued for a separate section onprinciples, as exists in the Climate Change and BiodiversityConventions. Mali listed the nine principles proposed by the OAU:sovereignty over resources; sovereignty in internationalcooperation programmes; collective responsibility in themaintenance of a sound and healthy environment; cooperation andpartnership; international solidarity; shared but differentiatedresponsibility; decentralization of decision-making; subsidiarity;and integrated approaches. Gambia added the precautionary principleand the principle of public participation to this list. Brazillisted a number of principles that should be included, all of whichare part of the Rio Declaration. Sweden said that the RioDeclaration should be the point of departure.

The US, supported by the UK, argued against a separate chapter asthere is the problem of legal ambiguity. A number of countries,including Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malaysia soughtclarification on what was meant by legal ambiguity. Cameroon saidthe role of the Committee is to overcome ambiguities rather thanflee from them.


ORGANIZATION OF WORK: The Chair, Anne de Lattre, proposedthe organization of work and the topics to be addressed:definitions; technology transfer and cooperation; research anddevelopment; information collection, analysis and exchange;institutions; regional instruments and procedures; and finalclauses. The US suggested that discussion of the definitions bepostponed, and the Working Group should start with the section onresearch and development. This proposal was supported by severalcountries, including Malaysia, Mauritania, Canada, Belgium andAustralia. Belgium, on behalf of the EC, stated that the onlyacceptable definitions are those based on universally agreedscientific knowledge. Japan proposed that competent UN agenciessuch as the WMO, with the assistance of the Secretariat, shouldcompile definitions based on Belgium's proposal for considerationat the next session of the INCD. The organization of the work wasadopted and the meeting proceeded to discuss Research andDevelopment.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: There was consensus regarding thesection on research and development, although it was seen as toodetailed and specific. It will be necessary to prioritize issuesand to cover strategies instead of detailed plans of action. Canadasuggested that the distinction between desertification and droughtbe made because the former is reversible while the latter is not.It is necessary to look at the relationships between these twoproblems in order to address the problem of poverty in combattingdesertification. It is also necessary to distinguish betweenprevention and restoration of desertified areas. Research workshould be focused on on-farm or off-station research in order toinvolve farmers at all levels. The specific areas that require moreattention include: the role of women in farming and trainingchildren on the appropriate methods; concentrating on farm andpastoral systems and not just crop production; the socio-economicfactors relating to drought and desertification; and theestablishment of production-oriented land management systems. Abottom-up approach is needed for research and the integration oflocal indigenous knowledge with modern technology and research.

The EC suggested that existing networking centres should besupported and should tailor their work to increasing local capacityto assess local needs. It is necessary to ensure coordinationbetween existing networking agencies. Most delegates includingNorway and India agreed with this approach. It was further proposedthat the Secretariat compile a list of institutions that arealready networking, such as the CGIAR. Some African governmentscontinued to call for local research centres.

INFORMATION COLLECTION, ANALYSIS AND EXCHANGE: The debatecentered on the type of information to be collected: basicinformation (data-banks) or applied information (needed incombatting desertification) such as early-warning systems. Therewas consensus that the information should not be expensive orelitist. Canada suggested that the information respond to specificquestions about specific localities (monitoring) with a minimumdata set for answering specific questions. It should also cover thesocio-economic aspects. India expressed concern that therequirements of the developing countries as stipulated in thedocuments would require considerable funding. Morocco stressed theneed for all countries suffering desertification to have therequisite instruments to monitor and assess desertification. Thereis need to establish five to ten parameters to be collectedperiodically as a measure for the success of the programmes. UNESCOproposed that process tap into UNDP's Sustainable DevelopmentNetwork. The role of coordination should not be centralized in oneinstitution. Information collected should not just be exchangedbetween the parties but with everyone who needs it. It is alsonecessary to identify who will provide data and to consult with theUN agencies on this issue. The Working Group proposed that the IPEDidentify information needs, its intended uses, and ask the panel ofexperts to identify the information at the local, national andregional levels. At the end of the session, the Chair requested allthe delegates to submit their written comments.


PLENARY: The Plenary will meet in an informal session at3:00 pm in Conference Room XIX for a discussion on the Chair'snon-paper on the modalities for the negotiation of regionalinstruments. Kjell‚n will take governments' views into account ashe finalizes a decision document for consideration later this week.NGOs will be allowed to attend this session.

It is unlikely that the working groups will convene after thePlenary. It is possible that the regional groups will caucus forthe rest of the afternoon. It is uncertain if the G-77 will meetafter the Plenary in order to take advantage of interpretationfacilities. Brazil, in agreement with Colombia, will be coordinatorof the G-77 for this session.

WORKING GROUP I: Working Group I will convene this morningin Conference Room XIX to conclude the discussion on principles andto start on objectives.

WORKING GROUP II: Today's session will start with a Chair'ssummary on yesterday's proceedings and will then move on toTechnology Transfer and Cooperation.

ROOM E 1008: The best kept secret of this session has beenthe existence of a delegates' computer room behind Salle XVII onthe first floor. The facility contains five computer work-stationswith word processing software in both French and English, a laserprinter, full-page scanner and photocopy machine. The INCDSecretariat provided both the hardware and funds for twoconsultants from Massachusetts Institute of Technology for trainingand technical assistance. Delegates can bring in prepared texts ineither DOS or MAC formats for printing. An Agenda 21 text retrievalsystem and the UNCED CD-ROM Archives will be available in the nextfew days. The computer center is open from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm.


Negotiating blocs
African Union
Group of 77 and China
Non-state coalitions