Curtain raiser

5th 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 in order to finalize the Convention byJune 1994. The organizational session of the INCD was held inJanuary 1993. At that meeting, delegates elected Bo Kjell‚n(Sweden) Chair of the Committee, elected the remaining members ofthe Bureau, adopted the rules of procedure, set the schedule ofmeetings and established two working groups.


The first session of the INCD was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 24May - 3 June 1993. The first week of the 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 regarding the issue 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 fromseveral countries in regions other than Africa. They felt thattheir own 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. The Committee considered the compilation text of theConvention prepared by the Secretariat and agreed on the futureprogramme of work of the Committee, including the elaboration ofregional instruments for Africa, Asia and Latin America. As inNairobi, the most difficult issue to resolve was the negotiation ofregional instruments. At the conclusion of the second session, thetwo working 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 General Assemblydecided that the INCD should hold one session after the adoption ofthe Convention during the interim period. The objective will be toreview the situation before the Convention enters into force, inparticular with regard to the implementation of provisions that areto be adapted to the specific needs of each region. This extrasession should be held on or before 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 on the draft negotiating text of the Convention thatwas 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. Progress was made in shaping the Convention andin identifying the areas of convergence and divergence. The INCDalso discussed the regional instrument for Africa for the firsttime. After an initial discussion of the nature of this instrumentand its relationship to the Convention as a whole, delegatesrequested the Secretariat to prepare a draft text for considerationat the fourth session of the Committee.


The fourth session of the INCD was held in Geneva from 21-31 March1994. The two working groups continued negotiating the draft textof the Convention, as contained in document A/AC.241/15/Rev.1. Bythe conclusion of the session, the substantive problems thatremained included: the inclusion of an article on principles in thetext; all matters related to financial resources and mechanisms;categories of countries; subsidiary bodies; reservations orexceptions open to the Parties; and the obligations of awithdrawing Party. In order to have a more productive dialogue onthe issues of financial resources and mechanisms, the Chair invitedPierre Marc Johnson (Canada) and Bolong Sonko (The Gambia) toundertake informal consultations among delegations on theprovisions of the Convention related to finance. The objective ofthese consultations was to develop a new negotiating text of theseprovisions for the fifth session of the INCD.

The fourth session was also the first time that delegates formallyconsidered the Regional Implementation Annex for Africa. Ingeneral, developed countries thought that the annex was too longand contained a number of articles that were better suited to oralready contained in the main Convention. The Africans felt thatthe level of detail was absolutely essential, otherwise theinstrument would not achieve its objective of providing prioritytreatment for Africa. After a series of informal sessions, theunresolved issues in this heavily bracketed text included: themandatory nature of the commitments to be taken by Parties;timetable for preparing action programmes; the necessity ofregional action programmes; the role of the UN and otherinternational institutions; financial arrangements; and follow-upand coordination.

The Asian and Latin American regional groups also produced draftregional implementation instruments for their regions. Althoughthese annexes were not negotiated or even discussed in detail,initial reaction was positive. Delegates praised both annexes fortheir brevity and clarity and supported them as a good basis forfurther discussion.


The following documents have been prepared for the fifth session ofthe INCD:

  • A/AC.241/22: Provisional Agenda. This document contains the provisional agenda for the fifth session of the INCD, as adopted by the Committee at its fourth session.
  • A/AC.241/23: 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.241/24: Negotiating Text of a Regional Implementation Annex for Latin America and the Caribbean. This document, originally introduced at INCD-4 by the Latin American and Caribbean Group, will be formally discussed by the INCD for the first time at this session.
  • A/AC.241/25: Negotiating Text of a Regional Implementation Annex for Asia. This document, originally introduced at INCD-4 by the Asian countries, will be formally discussed by the INCD for the first time at this session.
  • A/AC.241/26: Negotiating Text of a Regional Implementation Annex for the Northern Mediterranean. This document has been developed by representatives of Greece, Spain and Portugal. At this session, the Commission will have to determine if this regional annex will be formally discussed at this session and included in the Convention.
  • A/AC.241/15/Rev.3: Final Negotiating Text of the Convention. This document, which was distributed informally at the conclusion of the fourth session of the INCD, will be the basis for discussions in the Plenary.
  • A/AC.241/19/Rev.1: Final Negotiating Text of a Regional Implementation Annex for Africa. This document is the result of the negotiations during INCD-4. The OAU Ad Hoc Group of Experts met in Nairobi from 11-17 May 1994 and has proposed amendments to the African Annex, which they will formally present during this session.
  • A/AC.241/9/Add.7: List of Non-Governmental Organizations recommended for accreditation.
  • A/49/84/Add.1: 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 fourth session.
  • A/AC.241/L.18: Proposed modifications to the negotiating text relating to categories of countries. This document proposes modifications to the paragraphs in the Convention that refer to different categories of countries.
  • A/AC.241/L.19: Working Paper on the financial provisions of the Convention. This paper presents the results of the consultations undertaken by Pierre Marc Johnson (Canada) and Bolong Sonko (The Gambia) on the provisions of the Convention relating to financial resources and mechanisms. This text contains proposed changes to document A/AC.241/15/Rev 3 in the following articles: Preamble (paragraphs 18 and 19); Article 4 (paragraph 2(h)); Article 9 (paragraph 2); Article 13 (sub-paragraph (b)); Article 20; Article 21; and Article 22 (paragraph 2(g)).


PLENARY: The fifth session of the INCD will formally conveneat 10:00 am at UNESCO Headquarters. The Committee will be welcomedto Paris by the Director-General of UNESCO and a representativefrom the French Ministry of the Environment. The first item on theCommittee's agenda is the adoption of the agenda and organizationof work, as contained in document A/AC.241/22. INCD Chair Amb. BoKjell‚n (Sweden) will also present an opening statement. ThePlenary will also hear statements from the president of Cape Verdeand ministers of a number of States, including Benin, Cameroon,Djibouti, Kazakhstan, Mali, Mongolia and Senegal.

After these opening statements, the Executive Secretary of theINCD, Hama Arba Diallo, will introduce the Secretariat documents,including: the final negotiating text of the Convention(A/AC.241/15/Rev.3), the final negotiating text of the RegionalImplementation Annex for Africa (A/AC.241/19/ Rev.1) and theregional implementation annexes for Latin America and theCaribbean, Asia and the Northern Mediterranean (A/AC.241/24, 25 and26, respectively). The Committee may also consider a list of NGOsrecommended for accreditation to the negotiating process(A/AC.241/9/Add.7).

The Plenary will reconvene at 3:00 pm to begin its consideration ofthe final negotiating text of the Convention. Discussion isexpected to focus on the remaining bracketed portions of the text,however, if there is no objections from the rest of the Committee,new proposals will be entertained. If any parts of the text proveparticularly contentious, it is possible that the Chair will set upsmaller informal consultations or "informal-informal" meetings.

AD HOC NEGOTIATING GROUP: The Plenary is expected toestablish an ad hoc negotiating group, under thechairmanship of Anne de Lattre (France). This group will focus itsattention on the regional implementation annexes for Africa, LatinAmerica and the Caribbean, Asia and, possibly the NorthernMediterranean. This group is expected to begin its work at 3:00 pm,in parallel to the Plenary.

IN THE CORRIDORS: At INCD-4 an NGO working group wasestablished to draft a plan for worldwide NGO cooperation on theimplementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification. Asecond draft of this plan will be the subject of discussion by NGOsduring this session of the INCD. The plan proposes theestablishment of an International NGO Network on Desertificationthat would raise awareness in both North and South ondesertification and its effects, facilitate the sharing ofinformation, and monitor implementation of the Convention.