The second session 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 (INCD) began at 3:00 pm on Monday afternoon. The Chair, Amb. Bo Kjelln, welcomed delegates and immediately summarized the documents that are before the INCD at this session. These include: A/AC.241/11, Adoption of the agenda; A/AC.241/12, the substantive document for this session, containing the compilation of government views, statements and drafting proposals; A/AC.241/9/Add.2, a list of NGOs recommended for accreditation; and A/48/226, the report to the General Assembly of this Committee's organizational and first substantive sessions.
The Committee quickly adopted the agenda for this session and then reviewed an informal paper regarding the organization of work. Before describing the contents of this informal paper, Kjelln reminded delegates of the statement made by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the Fifth Committee on 26 August 1993 regarding resources available to the UN and cost-saving measures to be undertaken between now and the end of the year. These include: no interpretation services for meetings of regional groups nor any meetings after 6:00 pm. The Committee then adopted the informal paper on the organization of work. The two working groups will meet for most of the next two weeks, except for short meetings of the Plenary on Tuesday, Wednesday and next Monday. The working groups are expected to finish their work next Thursday, to allow time for Plenary discussion on Friday, the last day of the session.
The next item of business was the accreditation of 35 additional NGOs to the process, which was approved without objection.
The Chair then postponed consideration of Agenda Item 2, Election of officers. Consultations must still be undertaken on this matter. The Committee will have to elect a new Chair for Working Group II, as Jacques Alliot (France) is recovering from a serious operation. A replacement is expected to be proposed on Tuesday. A Vice-Chair/Rapporteur for Working Group I must also be nominated by the Eastern European Group. Kjelln then addressed Agenda Item 3 "Elaboration of an international convention to combat desertification." He referred to the three remaining two-week INC sessions and the need to work efficiently. Kjelln stated that the main purpose of this particular session is to review document A/AC.241/12 "Compilation of Government Views, Statements and Drafting Proposals". Kjelln noted that this document was compiled with the advice of a panel of experts that met in early August. The document is not a consolidation, but rather a compilation text. The actual process of consolidating the various views will be prepared by the Secretariat in time for the third session of the INCD in January 1994. Kjelln called on the two working groups to carry out a careful reading of the entire text. He noted several key challenges for both groups, including: identifying the areas of consensus; identifying the areas of divergence and defining them as specifically as possible; identifying areas requiring more expert advice; and, finally, noting those areas where informal consultations between interested delegations could facilitate negotiations.
Kjelln also mentioned the need to reach agreement on the mandates for the two Working Groups and the procedures for negotiation of the regional agreements. He called on delegations to adopt decision 1/3 as contained in document 48/226. He stated that this document was fundamentally acceptable to most delegations in Nairobi. The acceptance of this text will enable the working groups to commence their substantive work. The Plenary was able to adopt the text with no objections.
Kjelln then described a non-paper that he prepared on the development of regional instruments. It addresses: the need to treat the dryland problem as a truly global one while still recognizing the particular vulnerability of Africa; the need for prompt-start arrangements; the importance of negotiating the instruments for other regions according to the modalities agreed to at this meeting. On that point, Kjelln proposed the following process: the first step would include the conclusion of the negotiations for the actual Convention. A regional instrument for Africa would be concluded simultaneously to serve as a blueprint for other regional agreements. The second step would include the commencement of negotiations for the regional instruments for Asia and Latin America. This step would involve the preparation of case studies, regional conferences and the actual drafting of legal instruments.
Kjelln stated that he will convene an informal consultation on Wednesday afternoon to address his non-paper. He will circulate a draft decision on Thursday.
Kjelln then stated that the priority should be given at this meeting to the Convention itself. He expressed his strong desire that the Convention not be concluded as a mere framework instrument, but rather a text with substantive commitments. In order to be viable, the text would require sufficient strength so that it could stand alone, independent of any additional documents. Kjelln suggested that the regional instruments should spell out very concrete actions that could implement the objectives of the actual Convention. Kjelln noted the lack of precedents for this Convention but charged delegates with the task of forging a document that will make a difference.
The delegate of Brazil welcomed decision 1/3, which was just approved by the INCD. His government recognized that the issue of desertification had been given due prominence because of the efforts of the African governments. He supported the proposal of a Convention with instruments for all regions. He also stressed that the Convention only be brought into force when all the regional instruments are completed.
The next speaker was the Executive Secretary, Arba Diallo, who highlighted the contents of the Secretariat's document A/AC.241/12. He said the document was requested by governments in Nairobi and regretted that it is still not available in all official languages, since a number of governments did not submit their proposals by 1 July deadline. This document is based on the main thrust and ideas presented by governments. As such, it is not a literal translation. Rather, it incorporates proposals from governments, the OAU, international agencies, and members of international group of experts who are assisting the Secretariat. He commended the efforts of Switzerland, Mali, Benin and Spain for their preparatory work for the process and the work of the subsidiary groups of the panel of experts who examined the links between desertification and biodiversity, climate change and alternative energy. He suggested that the uncertainties and risks of human activities and desertification as a food security issue should be covered. The Convention should also depict a holistic response including ecological and socio-economic factors; the use of local knowledge in addressing the problem; and the relationship between desertification and global trade.
The case studies that were intended to be commenced during the first half of 1993 have not begun due to financial constraints. Diallo expressed hope that studies in Latin America and Asia will begin by the end of the year. Notwithstanding, national support missions have been established to develop a methodology and work schedule for submission by January 1994. In Africa, IGADD, SADC and other intergovernmental organizations, as well as NGOs, are conducting supplementary work that will be useful. A framework on national studies is being carried out in Mali, Tunisia, Botswana and Uganda, some of which will be presented in this session by the Ministers of Tunisia and Mali. Regional studies are being undertaken by AMU, CILSS and SADC. Instead of having four regional meetings, there will only be one in Geneva. The NGOs contribution was made during the Bamako meeting, which was supported by the Secretariat and NGLS. Their report will be made tomorrow. Diallo underscored the importance of NGOs in the process, adding that they highlighted the role of local communities. He described the precarious situation of professional staffing at the Secretariat and thanked the Swiss and Canadian governments for facilitating the addition of two more professional staff members. He expressed hope that one more would be added.
The Chair then opened the floor to a number of ministers who had come to address the Committee.
MALI: The Environment Minister, Mohamed Ag Erlaf, described the status of the desertification problem in Mali. 58 percent of the country is desertified, 30 percent of the country is threatened with desertification, and 12 percent is at a very precarious stage. He briefly identified the ecological, socio-economic and political consequences of desertification and went on to outline the many advantages of the Convention, especially the knowledge that will be acquired from the case studies. He described the process that Mali has used in the case studies, including the choice of sites, the collection of data, local and national consultations, and the preparation of a final programme of action. He requested that the preamble to the Convention contain special reference to the need for poverty eradication, the role that desertification and drought play as sources of economic instability, and the need for equitable technology transfer.
KAZAKHSTAN: The Minister of the Environment, A. Shustov, said that Kazakhstan is one the former Soviet republics that has suffered most from ecological problems, especially desertification. The intensification and concentration of agricultural production, overuse of pastoral lands, regulation of water sources, mono-crop agriculture, and extensive use of pesticides have all led to land degradation, reduction of food supplies and overgrazing. The deteriorating environment has led to increasing migration of native populations. The main areas of crisis are near the Aral and Caspian Seas. The current economic problems in Kazakhstan and the delay in infrastructural development has increased the magnitude of the problem and its effect on human lives. He urged the Committee to adopt a special instrument dealing with desertification in Asia.
JAPAN: The delegate expressed gratitude for the Secretariat's efforts to forge consensus on the mandate of the Working Groups and their work on the draft text of the Convention. He then outlined the Japanese government view on the Convention: in general, the Convention should be clear and concise to avoid ambiguity during implementation; it is important to assess the reasons why some projects to combat desertification have failed; the text should be relevant to all regions without being specific to any one region since the universality of the problem is important; actions to combat desertification are undertaken at the national and regional levels and take into consideration socio-economic considerations; and the Convention should be based on the premise that those countries affected should develop local initiatives with the assistance of the international community. It is important to consider land users, especially women, who play an important role in combatting desertification. He pointed out that drought should be defined in relation to desertification. Regarding the obligation of the parties to the Convention, he proposed that the parties affected by desertification should prepare, publish and make available national action plans to combat desertification and that developed countries assist developing countries in the formulation and implementation of the action plan. He also mentioned the importance of financing appropriate projects, encouraging research and technical cooperation, information exchange and cooperation between agencies. He proposed that UNEP compile the causes of desertification to facilitate the role of the Secretariat.
OAU: The representative from the OAU noted the considerable progress that has been made at various OAU meetings held since Nairobi, which resulted in a preliminary paper that was presented to the INCD.
[Return to start of article]