Many INCD-10 participants suggested that the end of this session marks the beginning of the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, with the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-1) only eight months away. In spite of the difficulty encountered in negotiating the Global Mechanism, many delegates felt the issue prompted them to reflect more critically on the crucial elements needed for the effective implementation of the Convention. Several delegates emphasized three aspects that they consider the foundation of the Convention: partnership, participation and resources. Delegates also reflected on decisions taken on scientific and technological cooperation, as well as those that will be taken at COP-1.
PARTNERSHIP AND PARTNERSHIP BUILDING: Most delegates agree that partnership, as called for in the Convention, is the most significant accomplishment of the CCD. One delegate called it the magic word. The spirit with which this Convention was negotiated demonstrates that if good projects are prepared, funds will be available. A delegate argued that, assuming no additional funds were made available, implementing the Convention can make a significant difference if the funds presently allocated to desertification and drought activities are re-directed. However, delegates also expressed caution on the need to recognize that partnership, which is also often referred to as coordination, will be constrained by certain factors.
The Convention alludes to three forms of coordination: between the countries in the South; between developing and developed countries; and with other Conventions. Combatting desertification on a small scale will have no effect. Partnership among developing countries is therefore essential, but they may find it difficult to coordinate their work because it will require improved relations on other levels. Coordination between donors will require the North to move away from the political meaning of coordination, which is viewed as a way to exercise power. Collaboration between the three Rio Conventions is necessary to ensure that they are all focused on sustainable development objectives.
Another concern is the difficulty of building partnerships between groups that have very different interests, which could easily degenerate into a battlefield. The discussion on the Global Mechanism reflected this tension.
PARTICIPATION: Many delegates agreed that the most innovative aspect of the Convention is the recommendation for involvement of civil society. If affected governments make genuine efforts to ensure the participation of affected populations, the impact will not only be great but there will be a real incentive for developed countries to provide resources. However, problems may arise from a number of sources.
First, the transformation in the lives of the people in the drylands will not be immediate. It will take time to convince development agencies that dryland development is not just about soil conservation and that drylands have economic value. Second, patience is a necessary element for genuine participation to take place. Third, different players in the Convention have different views about what participation is all about. The perception of participation among governments in the South differs from that in the North. These differences must be clearly understood.
Some NGOs were critical of their participation in policy-making. They argued that if they were facing obstacles in the NGO-friendly INCD process, the constraints for communities and local populations would be multiplied. As in many other intergovernmental processes, NGOs were allowed to make interventions just before the close of INCD-10 meetings, often after the issues they intended to raise had been discussed and decisions taken. However, some countries have made remarkable progress. Some developing countries now have NGOs on their delegations and in one country, an NGO is the convener of the national coordinating committee. In many others, NGOs are involved in the national steering committees and desertification funds.
FINANCIAL RESOURCES, A LEGITIMATE CONCERN?: Apart from the lack of passion with which the subject was negotiated, the discussion on the function of mobilizing financial resources was reminiscent of the discussion on the Global Mechanism at INCD-5. While the core group was embroiled in discussions on whether or not the Mechanism will have resources of its own to fund the implementation of projects or programmes, most delegates thought the more important issue was whether there will be any resources at all, irrespective of the process of mobilization.
Many argued that donors have demonstrated during the interim period that resources will be available if affected countries can practically demonstrate their political will and develop projects within the provisions of the Convention. However, most NGOs doubted that they would be able to access funds, in particular at the national and regional levels, for activities that are within their area of competence. This concern was confirmed during the interim period. They called for a workable mechanism to be put in place.
For some delegates, underlying the debate on financial resources was the fundamental question of development assistance. The polemic displayed the long standing tensions on development assistance that are also evident in the other Rio Conventions. Thus, the Convention provides developing countries, in particular in Africa, with the opportunity to alter the game on the bilateral and multi-lateral levels, not through empowering the Global Mechanism to mobilize resources, but through the emerging concept of chef- de-file.
The delay in reaching agreement on this function caused some to speculate that it was a strategy to ensure that the COP would vote on this decision. Some developed country delegates expressed concern that they had convinced their governments to ratify the Convention because the GM would not be an institution that finances the implementation of programmes and projects, a position that is now being challenged.
Nevertheless, most delegates agreed that the matter, as a political issue, can only be resolved at the political level at COP-1. A few disagreed, noting that delaying important decisions, including what character the Global Mechanism assumes and the country that hosts the Permanent Secretariat, will hold the implementation of the Convention hostage. This delay could result in some of the institutions involved in overseeing the implementation starting operations as late as 1999.
The overall impression of the INCD process thus far is that developing countries may have been too optimistic in their hopes for additional development assistance through this Convention. On the other hand, some donors had initially assumed they could provide such resources, but the economic recession has created social situations that deeply affect their foreign policies, leading to decreases in development assistance. This has resulted in a magnified North-South tug of war on financial issues during the critical stages of the negotiations. Some feel that the solution to this problem is to take what is there and make the best of it. Developing countries need to understand that more funds may not be forthcoming and developed countries need to recognize that it is difficult for developing countries to demonstrate commitment and results if they lack the necessary resources for implementation. The Convention may also assure that further cuts in official development assistance, in particular for dryland areas, are curtailed.
PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS NEEDED IN THE CST: Although steady progress has been made since the start of discussions on scientific and technological cooperation, some delegates questioned the value of spending so much time discussing institutions and networking. First, information requested from the institutions on the projects and activities they are undertaking will take a long time to compile and, by the time it is ready, be out of date. Second, institutions are often reluctant to provide this type of information. The first priority of the CST is to survey and identify networks between existing organizations.
Some sensed a deficiency in the discussions dealing with the more practical aspects of implementation that relate to the science of ensuring participation. They argued that although this constraint emanates from a lack of methodologies providing a logical process that would culminate in local populations assuming ownership of the Convention, consideration of provisions to learn from success stories and experiences of local populations would be useful.
FROM NEGOTIATION TO IMPLEMENTATION: When INCD Chair Kjell�n concluded the session, he emphasized that, despite the fact that this phase of the negotiations has focused on words, the core of the Convention really deals with people in the drylands and the improvement of their conditions. Some participants suggested that, despite the Chairs assurances, the link between the macro and micro levels was weak.
An example of where delegates seem to have lost focus on the core issue in the Convention is the negotiations in Working Group II on rules of procedure. The amount of time spent on the size and composition of the Bureau seemed disproportionate to the impact it will have on the outcome of this process. This was also one of the outstanding issues that led to the need for a resumed tenth session. Some said it was a question primarily for professional diplomats who have negotiated similar issues in the context of other conventions and who lack first-hand knowledge about the activities and conditions in the field.
The numerous criteria required for the composition of bodies working with science and technology is also a source of tension. While there is a preference for small groups to achieve efficiency, the requirements to ensure a fair representation of all interest groups will be difficult to reconcile. This difficulty led several to believe that ad hoc panels were not likely to be established any time soon. Scientific ad hoc panels in the Biodiversity and Climate Change Conventions have not been set up. NGOs recognized this fact and, in an attempt to make a contribution to the first CST session, proposed an open-ended consultative group to study local area development.
The Convention entered into force on 26 December 1996, and will now be implemented. The Convention is described as innovative because it supports the bottom-up approach. However, the whole negotiation process is itself an example of a top-down process and in the implementation of the Convention, local populations will still have to be convinced the Convention will benefit them.
Most delegates re-affirmed the need for the involvement of all actors. NGOs and their international network, RIOD, have an important role to play linking the macro and micro levels. The affected country Parties have to ensure the necessary enabling and policy environment. Donors have to provide and assure better coordination of their resources. These are the lessons the interim measures and the urgent action for Africa have demonstrated, in addition to the need to maintain the momentum of a Convention that still seems to lack a high political profile. This momentum should enable a smooth transition into the post COP-1 implementation period.
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