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INC FOR THE ELABORATION OF AN INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION:: YEAR-END UPDATE

Although the third 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) will not take place until January 1994, there is much to report upon the conclusion of the 48th session of the United Nations General Assembly. This special year-end issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin will review relevant activities that have taken place since the second session of the INCD, summarize the results of the General Assembly's consideration of the INCD, and highlight upcoming events. This issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin is published as part of a series of year-end issues intended to summarize the current state of play in the various UNCED follow-up conferences and negotiations reported on by the Bulletin in 1993.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE INCD

Desertification affects about one-sixth of the world's population, 70 percent of all drylands, and one-quarter of the total land area in the world. The most obvious impact of desertification, in addition to widespread poverty, is the degradation of 3.3 billion hectares of the total area of rangeland; decline in soil fertility and soil structure; and the degradation of irrigated cropland (Agenda 21, para.12.2).

While the idea of a convention to combat desertification had been discussed during the UNCED preparatory process, it was only in Rio where language was adopted requesting the General Assembly to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee for the purpose of negotiating a convention. The General Assembly, during its 47th session in 1992, adopted resolution 47/188 calling for the establishment of the INCD, which will hold five sessions, with a view to finalizing a convention by June 1994. The organizational session of the INCD was held in January 1993. At that meeting delegates elected Bo Kjell‚n (Sweden) Chair of the Committee, elected the Bureau, adopted the rules of procedure, set the schedule of meetings and established two working groups.

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

While agreement was reached on the mandates of the working groups, negotiations stalled in Nairobi over the elaboration of related regional instruments while still giving priority action to Africa. Kjell‚n proposed that an instrument on Africa, such as an annex, be negotiated once the main structure of the Convention had been defined and that similar instruments for other regions be negotiated subsequently. This proposal met with resistance from a few countries in regions other than Africa. They felt that their own problems with desertification deserved attention and that similar instruments for their regions should be negotiated simultaneously with the instrument for Africa. The decision on this matter was deferred.

The second session of the INCD met in Geneva from 13-24 September 1993. At this session, the Committee considered the compilation text of the Convention prepared by the Secretariat and agreed on the future programme of work of the Committee, including the elaboration of regional instruments for Africa, Asia and Latin America to supplement the Convention. As in Nairobi, the most difficult issue to resolve was the negotiation of regional instruments.

At the conclusion of the second session of the INCD, the two working groups completed their discussion of the Secretariat's compilation text, identifying areas of convergence and divergence. There appeared to be consensus on a number of areas including the need for: a clear and concise preamble that refers to the history of desertification in the UN system; clear and concise objectives; and implementable commitments that are central to the Convention and articulated at different levels (local, regional and international). All delegates stressed the need for a public awareness strategy; improved education; and increased cooperation and coordination between North and South, South and South and among bilateral and multilateral donors.

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