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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST SESSION

The first session of the INCD served to provide the context and set the tone for the series of negotiating sessions to follow. During this two-week meeting progress was made in the definition of issues as well as in the sharing of ideas on the format and elements of the future Convention.

The first week of the session focussed on the definition of issues. This phase of the multilateral negotiating process often serves to identify the scope and magnitude of the problem, its primary causes, and the type of international action required to address the issue. It also provides the negotiators with a shared body of knowledge. In previous multilateral environmental negotiations, the definition of issues has taken place within the framework of another conference, within a committee of a UN agency or organization, or within a special working group. However, this was the first time that a special information sharing session was held as part of the work of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee.

Most of the participants stated that they thought that the information sharing segment was a success. By the end of the week, it was clear from the presentations, the overhead projections and the color slides, that desertification and drought are problems faced all over the world, in both developed and developing countries. Other issues that emerged during the discussion were the need for: local participation in combatting drought and desertification; economic incentives; the full integration of women; technology exchange; attention to the transboundary aspects of desertification; importance of information collection and exchange and strengthening research programmes.

The next phase of the negotiation process began during the second week of the session. This phase of the multilateral negotiation process is when the exchange of information and the negotiation over the detailed terms of an agreement takes place. During this phase the participants usually explore various alternative packages, and may reach some tentative, conditional understandings. In some cases, these conditional understandings take the form of a final draft treaty, with only a few articles or passages still under negotiation. In other cases, much work may still need to be done in the final bargaining or detail stage. In the case of the INCD negotiations, this phase will probably continue through the January or March 1994 sessions. During the discussion on the structure and possible elements of the convention, delegates began to exchange ideas about the convention, its objectives and its contents. It appeared as though there were a number of areas in which consensus may already be reached, including the need for a bottom-up approach that reinforces local participation and action, NGO activities, the full participation of women, and the significance of indigenous technologies and practices. The idea of national and sub-regional action programmes also received overwhelming support. Delegates also supported the need for commitments to improved research and development, data collection and analysis, exchange of information, capacity building and transfer and adaptation of technology.

There appeared to be consensus on using Chapter 12 of Agenda 21, and its definition of desertification, as a point of departure. The definition reads: "Desertification is land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities." There was, however, a difference of opinion on whether this definition should be enhanced to include a variety of socio- economic problems that can be considered causes of desertification. Most countries agreed that socio-economic problems, including debt, trade, poverty, population, and commodity pricing, are related to desertification. However, many developed countries stated that issues being addressed in other fora, such as trade and debt, should not be discussed here. Most delegates said that the Convention should include verifiable objectives and concrete commitments. However, there was a difference of opinion as to whether these commitments should be global or country-specific.

Most delegates believed that there should be linkages to, but no duplication of, other conventions. Delegates stressed the need to ensure complementarity and coordination between conventions. Some delegates, such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, expressed caution and urged that this Convention should not address issues covered in existing conventions. There was also some concern about linking this convention with others that have not been ratified or accepted by all countries.

The issue of financial resources and mechanisms also generated a difference of opinion. While some delegates expressed the need for new and additional financial resources and mechanisms for combatting desertification, others said that existing funds, if better managed and coordinated, should prove sufficient. Countries expressed skepticism about the use of the GEF as the funding mechanisms, although some supported the idea of a separate "window" for desertification within the GEF as one element of an overall financing package. Some delegates said that in addition to existing funding, there is a need to find additional sources from IDA, the World Bank and regional development banks. There was also concern expressed about the proliferation of funding mechanisms.

Finally, perhaps the most divisive issue revolved around the timing of the negotiation of regional instruments and how to reflect priority action for Africa. The original mandate given by UNCED and General Assembly resolution 47/188 stated that the Convention should give priority action to Africa. After consulting with governments over the past few months, Kjell‚n proposed that the priority treatment for Africa take the form of an annex or a protocol that would be an integral part of the Convention. He emphasized that this was to be a global convention and that most of the elements within it would apply to all regions of the world that are experiencing serious drought and/or desertification. He also proposed that the instrument for Africa should be negotiated once the main structure of the Convention was defined and that this would be the first of a series of regional instruments to be negotiated.

During the INCD meeting, however, it soon became apparent that not all countries approved of this methodology. Certain Latin American and Asian governments supported the need for priority treatment for Africa, but believed that similar instruments for other regions should be negotiated simultaneously. This did not meet with the approval of many developed countries who expressed concern about the logistics and costs of negotiating a convention and five regional annexes within one year, as the negotiating mandate for the INCD expires in June 1994. The Africans also expressed concern that the Latin American proposal went beyond the INCD's mandate. The debate that followed was a difficult one and, despite countless attempts at drafting compromise text, consensus proved to be elusive. The final attempt, which requested the General Assembly to consider extending the negotiating process to enable additional regional instruments to be adopted, was still not acceptable to Brazil and Mexico. As a result, the first session of the INCD ended on a discordant note, exactly one year after the Earth Summit in Rio. Whatever was embodied in the "Spirit of Rio" -- compromise, consensus and the desire to avoid failure -- was lost in Nairobi.

Whether the divisiveness experienced at this session will continue in Geneva remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it is clear that extensive consultations between regional groups within the G-77 as well as between the Chair and several delegations must occur during the intersessional period. Some form of a compromise must be reached on the negotiation of regional annexes during the first few days of the second session of the INCD to enable the Committee to move beyond procedural issues and create the innovative solutions needed to effectively combat desertification mitigate drought.

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