Summary report, 18 December 1995

1995 Year-end Update of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Elaboration of an International Convention to Combat Desertification

In 1995 the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Convention to Combat Desertification (INCD) began a new phase in its negotiating process. The first five sessions of the INCD, which met between May 1993 and June 1994, focused on the negotiation of the Convention. Once the Convention was adopted in June 1994, it was time to turn to implementation. This new phase of "post-agreement negotiations" is aimed at continuing the dialogue to push forward the development of the Convention and ensure that it is well implemented. With this in mind, the INCD met twice in 1995 to begin the process of translating the words of the Convention into action.

This special year-end issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin will review relevant activities that have taken place since the seventh session of the INCD in August 1995, summarize the results of the General Assembly's consideration of the INCD and highlight upcoming events. This issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin is published as part of a series of year-end issues intended to summarize the current state of play in the various sustainable development conferences and negotiations reported on by the Bulletin in 1995.


Desertification affects about one-sixth of the world's population, 70 percent of all drylands, and one-quarter of the total land area in the world. The most obvious impact of desertification, in addition to widespread poverty, is the degradation of 3.3 billion hectares of the total area of rangeland, decline in soil fertility and soil structure, and the degradation of irrigated cropland.

The Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) was formally adopted on 17 June 1994, and opened for signature at a ceremony in Paris on 14-15 October 1994. This first post-Rio sustainable development convention is notable for its innovative approach in recognizing: the physical, biological and socio-economic aspects of desertification; the importance of redirecting technology transfer so that it is demand driven; and the involvement of local populations in the development of national action programmes. The core of the Convention is the development of national and subregional/regional action programmes to combat desertification. These action programmes are to be developed by national governments in close cooperation with donors, local populations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The Convention currently has 115 signatories and has been ratified by 16 countries. The Convention will enter into force 90 days after the receipt of the 50th instrument of ratification.

While the idea of a convention to combat desertification was discussed during the UNCED preparatory process, it was in Rio where language was adopted requesting the General Assembly to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee for the purpose of negotiating a convention. The General Assembly, during its 47th session in 1992, adopted resolution 47/188 calling for the establishment of the INCD, with the aim of finalizing the Convention by June 1994.

The organizational session of the INCD was held in January 1993. At that meeting, delegates elected Bo Kjelln (Sweden) Chair of the Committee, elected the remaining members of the Bureau, adopted the rules of procedure, set the schedule of meetings and established two working groups.


The first session of the INCD was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 24 May - 3 June 1993. The first week of the session focused on the sharing of technical information and assessments on various aspects of drought and desertification. Divided into seven sections, the information-sharing segment provided an opportunity for scientists, technical experts, delegates and NGOs to share relevant experiences and learn more about the scourge of desertification and its global dimensions. The second week focused on the structure and elements to be contained in the Convention. Delegates also exchanged ideas about the Convention and its objectives.

Negotiations stalled in Nairobi over the issue of related regional instruments, while still giving priority action to Africa. Kjelln proposed that an instrument on Africa, such as an annex, be negotiated once the main structure of the Convention had been defined, and that similar instruments for other regions be negotiated subsequently. This proposal met with resistance from several countries in regions other than Africa. They felt that their own problems with desertification deserved attention and that similar instruments for their regions should be negotiated simultaneously with the instrument for Africa. The decision was deferred.


The second session of the INCD met in Geneva from 13-24 September 1993. The Committee considered the compilation text of the Convention prepared by the Secretariat and agreed on the future programme of work of the Committee, including the elaboration of regional instruments for Africa, Asia and Latin America. At the conclusion of the second session, the two working groups completed their discussion of the Secretariat's compilation text and identified areas of convergence and divergence. There appeared to be consensus on the need for implementable commitments that are central to the Convention and articulated at different levels (national, regional and international). Delegates stressed the need for a public awareness strategy, improved education, and increased cooperation and coordination between the North and the South, South and South, and among donors.


The third session of the INCD was held at UN Headquarters in New York from 17-28 January 1994. At this session the two working groups focused on the draft negotiating text of the Convention that was prepared by the Secretariat. By the end of the two-week session, the working groups were able to complete at least one and sometimes two readings of each draft article. Progress was made in shaping the Convention and in identifying the areas of convergence and divergence. The INCD also discussed the regional instrument for Africa for the first time. After an initial discussion of the nature of this instrument and its relationship to the Convention as a whole, delegates requested that the Secretariat prepare a draft text for consideration at the fourth session.


The fourth session of the INCD was held in Geneva from 21-31 March 1994. The two working groups continued negotiating the draft text of the Convention. By the conclusion of the session the substantive problems that remained included: the need for an article on principles in the text; all matters related to financial resources and mechanisms; categories of countries; subsidiary bodies; reservations or exceptions open to the Parties; and the obligations of a withdrawing Party.

It was at this session that delegates formally considered the Regional Implementation Annex for Africa for the first time. In general, developed countries thought that the annex was too long and contained a number of articles that were better suited to or already contained in the main Convention. The Africans felt that the level of detail was essential, otherwise the instrument would not achieve its objective of providing priority treatment for Africa. The Asian and Latin American regional groups also produced their own draft regional implementation instruments. Although these annexes were not discussed in detail, the initial reaction was positive.


The fifth session of the INCD was held in Paris from 6-17 June 1994. During this session, delegates worked through many long nights to reach agreement on the remaining bracketed text in the Convention and to finalize four regional implementation annexes for Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, and the Northern Mediterranean. They also adopted resolutions that recommended urgent action for Africa and interim arrangements for the period between adoption of the Convention and its entry into force, which could take at least two years. There were times during this session that delegates thought they would never reach agreement on the financial provisions of the Convention. After three all-night sessions capped by a closing Plenary that did not even begin until 4:00 am, the Convention was finally adopted.


The sixth session of the INCD was held at UN Headquarters in New York from 9-18 January 1995. While this session was more of an organizational session than anything else, it served two important purposes. First, the Committee reached agreement on the work programme for the interim period and the mandates of the two working groups and the Plenary. Second, it alerted delegates, the Bureau and the Interim Secretariat to some of the challenges that lie ahead. These challenges include: reaffirming the equal status of the Convention with other environmental conventions; implementation of the resolution on urgent action for Africa; raising awareness; popular participation; preparation for the first Conference of the Parties (COP); scientific and technical cooperation during the interim period; and funding.


The seventh session of the INCD was held in Nairobi from 7-17 August 1995. Delegates reviewed the status of ratification and implementation of the resolution on Urgent Action for Africa, as well as actions in other regions. The Working Groups also began their work. Working Group I, chaired by Mourad Ahmia (Algeria), addressed four issues: identification of an organization to house the Global Mechanism; designation of a permanent secretariat and arrangements for its functioning; draft financial rules of the COP, its subsidiary bodies and the Permanent Secretariat; and programme and budget. Working Group II, chaired by Takao Shibata (Japan), addressed: organization of scientific and technical cooperation; draft Rules of Procedure for the Conference of the Parties; and procedures for communication of information and review of implementation. There was also some debate about the periodicity and length of future sessions of the INCD. Some developed countries did not think that the INCD needed to meet twice a year for two weeks at a time. Others felt that it was necessary to meet twice a year so as not to lose momentum.


It has now been over a year since the Convention was opened for signature. As of 1 December 1995, 115 countries had become signatories to the Convention and the following 16 countries had ratified the Convention: Mexico, Cape Verde, the Netherlands, Egypt, Senegal, Ecuador, Lesotho, Finland, Togo, Tunisia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Peru and Canada.


It has now been over a year since the Convention was opened for signature. As of 1 December 1995, 115 countries had become signatories to the Convention and the following 16 countries had ratified the Convention: Mexico, Cape Verde, the Netherlands, Egypt, Senegal, Ecuador, Lesotho, Finland, Togo, Tunisia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Peru and Canada.


The CCD Secretariat, in collaboration with the host country and UNDP, has held a series of awareness-raising days to inform people about the Convention. Since 3 April 1995, awareness- raising days have been held in Cape Verde, Eritrea, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Egypt, Ethiopia, Senegal, Benin, Morocco, Niger, Zambia, Sudan, Uganda, Cte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Togo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tunisia. Additional awareness-raising days are scheduled to take place in Mozambique, Madagascar, the Central African Republic and Algeria in January 1996.


Three subregional meetings have been held in Africa over the past five months to begin the process of developing subregional action programmes. The consultation on the implementation of the Convention in West Africa was held in Dakar, Senegal from 24-18 July 1995. The consultation on the implementation of the Convention in East Africa was held in Asmara, Eritrea from 1-3 August 1995 and the consultation on the implementation of the Convention for Northern Africa was held in Tunisia from 8-11 November 1995. For more information about these consultations, contact the CCD Secretariat, tel: (41-22)979-9412; fax: (41-22)979-9030.


The 50th United Nations General Assembly began its consideration of Agenda Item 96(a), "Environment and Sustainable Development: Implementation of Decisions and Recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development," on Monday, 30 October 1995. In connection with this item, the General Assembly had before it a number of documents, including the report of the Secretary-General on desertification and drought (A/50/347), and a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the reports of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Elaboration of an International Convention to Combat Desertification (INCD) on its sixth and seventh sessions (A/50/74 and Add.1).

Since the debate on desertification and drought was part of the overall debate on UNCED follow-up, not all delegates addressed the Convention in their statements. Those delegates who did address this item expressed their support for the Convention and called for its early ratification and entry into force. Many expressed concern about the lack of contributions to the special funds.

In his introduction, the Executive Secretary of the Interim Secretariat for the CCD, Arba Diallo, elaborated on the work of the Secretariat in disseminating information about the Convention, including the preparation of kits in all UN languages that contain the text of the Convention, the text of a simplified version of the Convention and information on specific themes contained in the Convention. In addition to describing the results of INCD-7, Diallo noted that Germany, Spain, Kenya and Switzerland have all expressed interest in hosting the Permanent Secretariat. He expressed concern about the financial situation of the special funds and urged governments to contribute to these funds.

INCD Chair Amb. Bo Kjelln applauded the increasingly broad support from the international community for the Convention to Combat Desertification, as evidenced by the addition of 28 signatories to the Convention in the past year, and the large number of countries that have expeditiously initiated the ratification process. He predicted that the Convention would enter into force in the coming year and the first Conference of Parties would take place in 1997. He noted that substantive progress is being made in INCD meetings regarding negotiation of the rules of procedure and financial rules, and in regard to the question of the Global Mechanism. Both the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have expressed interest in housing the Mechanism. Of major concern is the lack of financial contributions to the Trust Fund and the Voluntary Fund. He noted that this Convention marks a transition in international environmental negotiations to one that truly embodies the UNCED spirit of cooperation between developed and developing countries, and the meaningful and substantive participation of NGOs and local communities, particularly women.

OFFICE TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION AND DROUGHT (UNSO): Samuel Nyambi stressed the importance of international action to implement the Convention to Combat Desertification, and stated that current levels of financing and activities are insufficient to stem, let alone reverse, the trend of land degradation in affected regions. US$4 million has thus far been contributed to support initiation of the national action programme process, subregional activities and capacity-building. An important aspect of the work to combat desertification is the building of effective partnerships, such as the UNEP-UNDP Partnership to Combat Desertification, and the collaboration of OECD/Club du Sahel with UNDP/UNSO to facilitate information exchange among organizations supporting implementation of the Resolution on Urgent Action for Africa. He announced that arrangements have been made to create the new UNSO, which will be the central UNDP entity for work on desertification and drought, and which will henceforth be called the Office to Combat Desertification and Drought.

PHILIPPINES: Heherson Alvarez, on behalf of the G-77 and China, called for early signing and ratification of the Convention to Combat Desertification.

SPAIN: Miguel Aguirre de Crcer, on behalf of the EU, supported the early entry into force of the Convention.

ECUADOR: On behalf of the Rio Group (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela), Marjorie Ulloa noted that millions of people in Latin America are affected by desertification and drought. The Rio Group intends to convene a regional governmental meeting to support the study of the problems of desertification and drought in the region and the implementation of the Convention, particularly the Latin American Annex.

ISRAEL: Amb. Israel Eliashiv noted that Israel has initiated projects to implement the Convention to Combat Desertification, such as the establishment of an International Center for Combating Desertification at Ben Gurion University in the Negev Desert. Israel also hosted a symposium (co-sponsored with Japan, UNDP, and the International Arid Lands Consortium) on Sustainable Water Management in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions from 15-19 May 1995. He called for international support for the International Programme for Arid Land Crops (IPALAC). Ben Gurion University supports this programme through activities such as a Specialists Course in Plant Introduction Adaptation and Development, with emphasis on Germplasm for Arid Zones, to be held in Israel in March 1996. He emphasized the importance of both human resources development and regional level cooperation (such as the Middle East Subregional Joint Project, launched in August 1995) in combating desertification.

BENIN: Rogatien Biaou announced that Benin will be ratifying the Convention in the coming weeks. Benin has established a technical committee, composed of representatives of all of the relevant ministries and NGOs, to implement the Convention. The committee began its work in May 1995 and is charged with the elaboration of a national action plan.

REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Ha-Yong Moon announced that the Republic of Korea is expected to ratify the Convention early in 1996.

NIGERIA: Amb. Isaac E. Ayewah said that priority in combating desertification should be given to implementing preventive measures for vulnerable lands that are not yet degraded. He commended the INCD on its success in raising international awareness of the problems of desertification and drought. A progressive and important aspect of the Convention to Combat Desertification is its emphasis on regional implementation. However, implementation of this Convention, and other activities pursuant to Agenda 21, are threatened by the recent decline in multilateral financial contributions.

IRAN: Mohammad Jabbary stated that the provision of substantial financial resources and other forms of support for countries affected by the problems of desertification, particularly in Africa, is essential to carrying out the implementation of the Convention. A Programme Office for the Regional Network of Research and Training on Desertification Control has been established in Tehran.

LESOTHO: Ntai Makoetje stated on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that an early entry into force of the Convention to Combat Desertification is of vital importance, and considerable strides have been made toward its ratification. SADC Member States are working on the national and subregional levels to coordinate approaches to the problems of desertification and drought by undertaking policy reviews and improvements, conducting a case study, and convening a series of workshops in preparation for the development of a subregional action programme. In March 1995, a subregional workshop on implementation of urgent measures for Africa was held in Pretoria, South Africa, and another workshop is planned in Windhoek, Namibia, in January 1996. Without adequate financial, technological and institutional capacities, the implementation of these measures and policies will be constrained.

KENYA: Prof. Sam Ongeri announced that the process of ratification of the Convention to Combat Desertification is well underway in Kenya, and an advisory national committee on desertification and drought has been established to facilitate implementation of the Convention. He expressed the opinion that the creation of a financial mechanism for this Convention is essential to its future success.

TUNISIA: Abderrazak Azaiez stressed the problem of desertification in Tunisia and reaffirmed the need for the rapid entry into force of the Convention. He described Tunisia's activities with regard to sustainable water development, renewable energy and safeguarding the natural environment.

SUDAN: Amb. Hamid Ali Mohamed Eltinay announced that the Sudan has ratified the Convention.

ETHIOPIA: Berhanu Kebede said that efforts must be made to resolve the issue of allocation of adequate financial resources and development of operational mechanisms to channel those resources to affected populations in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

BURKINA FASO: Paul Robert Tiendrebeogo said that fighting desertification is a priority in Burkina Faso. Training and consciousness-raising efforts are valuable tools in combating desertification. His government has shown its commitment through a programme that involves a grassroots network and is called "8000 towns, 8000 forests." He appealed to the international community to increase financial resources to organizations involved in combating desertification.

UGANDA: Odyek Agona said there is an urgent need for an understanding of desertification, and that it must be tackled in an integrated fashion. The lukewarm response of the intergovernmental and multilateral processes to the anti-desertification and drought crusade is regrettable. While the collaborative leadership role of UNEP and UNDP and the contribution of other agencies is welcomed and appreciated, it falls short, given the magnitude of the problem.

PERU: Italo Acha encouraged States to ratify and implement the Convention. He stressed that in addition to Africa, Asia and Latin America also suffer from desertification and drought. He described how agricultural development in Peru is severely hindered by desertification and drought. He called on the donor community to guarantee the flow of financial resources and increase cooperation to support national, subregional and regional programmes of action to combat desertification. He noted that it is important that the INCD continue to meet to facilitate the transfer and development of science and technology as well as the implementation of the Convention.

CANADA: Amb. John A. Fraser reported that Canada has contributed C$18 million to Solidarite-Canada-Sahel (SCS), the North American NGO focus group for desertification. SCS has launched a public awareness campaign and works with NGOs in the Sahel to develop National Action Programmes to combat desertification. In addition, a Desertification Convention Office has been established in Canada to coordinate Canadian activities and programmes to combat desertification.

MYANMAR: U Zaw Wynn said that Myanmar has taken action to combat land degradation through afforestation and reforestation projects in nine districts of the dry zone. Other activities include financial support for developing countries and strengthening integrated development programmes in areas vulnerable to land degradation, to eradicate poverty and promote alternative livelihood systems.

ALGERIA: Mourad Ahmia pointed out that desertification affects more than 40 African countries. He urged countries to fulfill the promises of the Convention and international support for the resolution on Urgent Action for Africa. The establishment of the global financial mechanism called for in Article 21 of the Convention is one of the most important actions in the fight against desertification. At a meeting of countries in the Sahelian-Saharan region held in Algiers from 23-24 August 1995, governments stressed the importance of subregional cooperation to confront the problems of desertification.

IFAD: Vera P. Weill-Hall said that IFAD expects to provide US$150-200 million annually to assist the poor in dryland areas to implement conservation strategies. IFAD believes that the Global Mechanism must not only serve as a clearinghouse, but must actively solicit funding for implementing the Convention. IFAD is willing and able to host the Global Mechanism in this capacity. IFAD considers lack of awareness to be the greatest obstacle to the Convention's implementation, so it is contributing to the preparation of a simplified version of the Convention. IFAD has earmarked funds to assist in the Secretariat's work on National Awareness Days in Africa, and has launched a pilot Technical Assistance Grants Programme for Assistance to African Countries in Implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification. In cooperation with the Interim Secretariat and others, IFAD will host a forum in June 1996 on participatory local development programmes.

EGYPT: Abdel-Ghafar Eldeeb welcomed the conclusions of the seventh session of the INCD. He attached special importance to the issue of water resources and noted that Egypt is implementing several programmes in this regard.

MALI: Sekou Almamy Koreissi noted that Mali ratified the Convention in February 1995. The international community must continue its support by replenishing the special trust fund and the voluntary fund. Responsibility for combating desertification lies with the affected countries and, to this end, Mali has joined efforts with eight other countries.

NIGER: Suzanne Maikarfi said that the Convention to Combat Desertification has given strength to Niger's policies to fight desertification. The consistent basis of these policies is to ensure food security. She expressed concern over the lack of voluntary contributions to finance the Convention.

UNITED STATES: Bisa Williams-Manigault reported that the US Government is proceeding to submit the Convention to Combat Desertification to the Senate for ratification. USAID missions in Africa are providing support for the resolution on Urgent Action for Africa.

MALAYSIA: Amb. V. Yoogalingam announced that Malaysia signed the International Convention to Combat Desertification on 6 October 1995. Malaysia has also made a US$10,000 contribution to the Convention's implementation.


The Philippines, on behalf of the G-77 and China, introduced the draft resolution on the Convention to Combat Desertification in the Second Committee on 14 November 1995. The final resolution (A/C.2/50/L.54), which emerged from informal consultations, was adopted by the Second Committee on 5 December 1995. It is expected to be formally adopted by the General Assembly Plenary before Christmas.

One of the more contentious issues in this resolution was the number and duration of future meetings of the INCD. Several countries did not feel it was necessary to specify the dates of the sessions in 1997 and thought it premature to set the dates of the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties when there were only 16 ratifications out of the 50 needed for the Convention to enter into force.

The final resolution decides that: the INCD will continue to prepare for the first session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention and, for this purpose, will have two sessions in 1996, each of up to two weeks' duration, the eighth session to be held in Geneva from 5-16 February and the ninth session in New York from 3-13 September. The resolution also decides to convene the tenth session of the INCD in New York from 6-17 January 1997 and, pending the entry into force of the Convention, to convene as necessary a further session in 1997, of up to two weeks' duration, the exact date and venue of which shall be determined at a later stage. Upon entry into force of the Convention, a session of the Conference of the Parties will be convened in the second and third weeks of June 1997 or, alternatively, in the second and third weeks of August 1997, the exact dates and venue to be determined at a later stage.

The resolution also: requests all countries, the UN system, appropriate scientific and business communities, trade unions, relevant NGOs and other interested groups to take action for the prompt implementation of the Convention and its relevant regional annexes upon entry into force; urges all countries and relevant actors to take actions to implement the resolution on Urgent Action for Africa; decides that the work of the INCD and the Interim Secretariat will continue to be funded through existing UN budgetary resources; and urges States and interested organizations to contribute to the Trust Fund for the Secretariat and the Special Voluntary Fund for the participation of developing countries. The resolution also welcomes the arrangements concluded between the Interim Secretariat and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to support activities in affected developing countries, and invites the Interim Secretariat to conclude similar arrangements with other relevant organizations, such as UNDP, UNEP, FAO and UNESCO.


EIGHTH SESSION OF THE INCD: The next session of the INCD will meet in Geneva for up to two weeks from 5-16 February 1996. The provisional agenda includes: adoption of the agenda and organization of work; preparation for the Conference of the Parties; a review of urgent action for Africa and action taken in other regions; status of signature and ratification of the Convention; and review of extrabudgetary funds.