Curtain raiser

4th Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the International Convention to Combat Desertification


While the idea of a convention to combat desertification wasdiscussed during the UNCED preparatory process, it was only in Riowhere language was adopted requesting the General Assembly toestablish an intergovernmental negotiating committee for thepurpose of negotiating a convention. The General Assembly, duringits 47th session in 1992, adopted resolution 47/188 calling for theestablishment of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee forthe Elaboration of an International Convention to CombatDesertification in those countries experiencing serious droughtand/or desertification, particularly in Africa (INCD) and theconvening of five sessions, with a view to finalizing theConvention by June 1994. The organizational session of the INCD washeld in January 1993. At that meeting delegates elected Bo Kjell‚n(Sweden) Chair of the Committee, elected the Bureau, adopted therules of procedure, set the schedule of meetings and establishedtwo working groups.


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

Negotiations stalled in Nairobi over the elaboration of relatedregional instruments while still giving priority action to Africa.Kjell‚n proposed that an instrument on Africa, such as an annex, benegotiated once the main structure of the Convention had beendefined and that similar instruments for other regions benegotiated subsequently. This proposal met with resistance from afew countries in regions other than Africa. They felt that theirown problems with desertification deserved attention and thatsimilar instruments for their regions should be negotiatedsimultaneously with the instrument for Africa. The decision on thismatter was deferred.


The second session of the INCD met in Geneva from 13-24 September1993. At this session, the Committee considered the compilationtext of the Convention prepared by the Secretariat and agreed onthe future programme of work of the Committee, including theelaboration of regional instruments for Africa, Asia and LatinAmerica to supplement the Convention. As in Nairobi, the mostdifficult issue to resolve was the negotiation of regionalinstruments. At the conclusion of the second session, the twoworking groups completed their discussion of the Secretariat'scompilation text, identifying areas of convergence and divergence.There appeared to be consensus on a number of areas including theneed for: a clear and concise preamble that refers to the historyof desertification in the UN system; clear and concise objectives;and implementable commitments that are central to the Conventionand articulated at different levels (local, regional andinternational). All delegates stressed the need for a publicawareness strategy; improved education; and increased cooperationand coordination between North and South, South and South, andamong donors.


The 48th session of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolutionsubmitted by the INCD that urged the Committee to successfullycomplete the negotiations by June 1994. The INCD shall hold onesession after the adoption of the Convention during the interimperiod in order to review the situation pending its entry intoforce, in particular with regard to the implementation ofprovisions adapted to the specific needs of each region. This extrasession should be held not later than 31 January 1995.


The third session of the INCD was held at UN Headquarters in NewYork from 17-28 January 1994. At this session, the two workinggroups focused their attention on the draft negotiating text of theConvention prepared by the Secretariat and contained in documentA/AC.241/15. By the end of the two-week session, the working groupswere able to complete at least one and sometimes two readings ofeach draft article. Although numerous brackets remain in the text,a great deal of progress was made. The Convention began to takeshape and the areas of convergence and divergence were clearlyidentified. The INCD also began to discuss the regional instrumentfor Africa for the first time. After an initial discussion of thenature of this instrument and its relationship to the Convention asa whole, delegates requested the Secretariat to prepare a drafttext for consideration at the fourth session of the Committee.


The following documents have been prepared for the fourth sessionof the INCD:

  • A/AC.241/18: Provisional Agenda. This document contains the provisional agenda for the fourth session of the INCD, as adopted by the Committee at its third session. The provisional work programme for the next two weeks is also included.
  • A/AC.241/19: Negotiating Text of a Regional Implementation Annex for Africa. This document was prepared by the Secretariat on the basis of document A/AC.241/17 and comments received during the third session of the INCD. This document will be the basis for negotiation of the African Annex in Working Group II.
  • A/AC.241/20: Review of the situation as regards extrabudgetary funds. This document updates the status of the two funds established for the INCD: the Voluntary Fund to support the participation of developing countries affected by drought and desertification, and the Trust Fund for the negotiating process.
  • A/AC.241/15/Rev.1: Revised Negotiating Text of the Convention. This document, which was preliminarily distributed at the conclusion of the third session of the INCD, will be the basis for negotiations in both working groups during the next two weeks. A number of articles remain heavily bracketed and it is hoped that the working groups will successfully reach agreement on as much of the text as possible during the next two weeks.
  • A/AC.241/9/Add.6: List of Non-Governmental Organizations recommended for accreditation.
  • A/49/84: Report of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Elaboration of an International Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, on its third session.


PLENARY: The fourth session of the INCD will formallyconvene this morning at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The firstitem on the Committee's agenda is the adoption of the agenda, ascontained in document A/AC.241/18. The Plenary will then hearstatements from ministerial representatives of a number of Statesand Heads of UN Agencies who will be in attendance at the openingsession. INCD Chair Bo Kjell‚n will also make an opening statementabout the status of negotiations and his expectations for thissession.

After these opening statements, the Executive Secretary of the INCDSecretariat, Hama Arba Diallo, will introduce the revisednegotiating text of the Convention (A/AC.241/15/Rev.1) and thenegotiating text of the regional implementation annex for Africa(A/AC.241/19). The Committee is also expected to consider anadditional list of NGOs recommended for accreditation to thenegotiating process (A/AC.241/9/Add.6).

WORKING GROUP I: Working Group I will convene this afternoonunder the chairmanship of Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria). After adoptingits provisional work programme, the Working Group is expected tobegin a reading of the Preamble. The lengthy 24-paragraph Preamblewas the subject of three days of negotiations at INCD-3. Elevenparagraphs still contain brackets:

Paragraph 7 considers the impact of trade and other aspectsof international economic relations.

Paragraph 8 currently reads: "Conscious that [sustainable]economic growth, social development and poverty eradication are thefirst priorities of affected [developing] countries, particularlyin Africa, are essential to meeting sustainability objectives."

Paragraph 9 refers to desertification as both a cause andconsequence of important social problems and has two possibleformulations in brackets: one that emphasizes social problems(poverty, poor health and nutrition, migration, etc.) and one thatemphasizes trade.

Paragraph 11 calls for a new approach to combatdesertification and mitigate the effects of drought.

Paragraph 14 mentions the sovereign right of States toexploit their own natural resources.

Paragraph 15 refers to the national and localresponsibilities for combatting desertification.

Paragraph 16 recognizes the importance and necessity ofinternational cooperation and partnership.

Paragraph 17 reaffirms the UN target of 0.7% of grossnational product (GNP) for official development assistance (ODA).

Paragraph 20 addresses the relationship betweendesertification and other environmental problems. Problem areasinclude: the use of the term "global;" are these problems faced byboth the international and national communities; and shouldspecific problems, such as climate change, biodiversity,freshwater, land degradation and demographic pressure, be listed.

Paragraph 21 mentions the relationship among the objectivesof the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions anddesertification.

Paragraph 22, a paragraph proposed by the US, recognizes thekey role of international cooperation, donor coordination andconsistency with national priorities.

According to the provisional work programme, Working Group I willtry to proceed this week as follows: Tuesday -- Principles,Objectives and General Obligations; Wednesday -- Action Programmes;Thursday -- Capacity Building, Education and Public Awareness; andFriday -- Financial Resources and Mechanisms.

WORKING GROUP II: Working Group II will convene thisafternoon under the chairmanship of Anne de Lattre (France). Afteradopting its provisional work programme, the Working Group isexpected to proceed with a discussion of definitions.

This section is one of the most heavily bracketed of the text. Oneimportant issue that must be addressed is the definition of"countries in a position to provide assistance," which alsoincludes "developed and other countries." At INCD-3, the LatinAmericans and Asians saw this as a blatant attempt to bind theeconomically well-off developing countries to provide financialassistance, despite assurances from many developed countries thatassistance is a broader term that also includes technicalassistance. The other problem relates to the proposal to providethree annexes listing: affected countries; affected countriesneeding assistance; and countries in a position to provideassistance. The problem lies in the fact that the status of acountry may change over time. Both proposals are based on similarprovisions in the Biodiversity Convention.

According to the provisional work programme, Working Group II willtry to proceed this week as follows: Tuesday -- Informationcollection, analysis and exchange; Research and Development; andTechnology Transfer; Wednesday -- Institutions; Thursday --Procedures and Final Clauses; Regional Implementation Annexes(Article 17) and Implementation Annex for Africa; and Friday --Implementation Annex for Africa.

IN THE CORRIDORS I: Governments have been busy discussingregional implementation annexes during the brief period betweenINCD-3 and INCD-4. Members of the Asian Group recently met inBangkok to draft a regional annex for Asia. Latin Americans met inFortaleza, Brazil, earlier this month to discuss a regional annexfor Latin America. A number of representatives of European nationssuffering from drought and desertification also met to discuss andbegin drafting their own regional annex. Look for drafts of theseannexes to be presented to the INCD (and possibly discussed) thisweek.

IN THE CORRIDORS II: On Wednesday, 16 March, representativesof over 80 countries agreed on the restructuring and thereplenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The GEF isto be replenished at US$2.022 billion over three years.Industrialized and developing States have agreed to share controlof the GEF through a "double majority" voting system -- 60% oftotal affirmative votes of participants on the one hand and 60% ofcontributions on the other. Although there has not been anyagreement on a "new window" for projects aimed at combattingdesertification, look for the GEF agreement to have an impact onthe INCD negotiations, especially those on financial resources andmechanisms.


National governments
Negotiating blocs
Asian Group
Non-state coalitions