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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF INCD-7

In working smoothly through a modest agenda, INCD-7 achieved its goals. As Chair Bo Kjell�n explained in his opening and closing remarks, the idea in Nairobi was to make progress for upcoming sessions, to take the next measured steps toward a first COP that is at least a year and as many as four more meetings away. Mostly procedural decisions resulted, as delegates gently broached dialogues on potentially difficult areas such as the Global Mechanism and financial rules that most agree cannot be negotiated fully until closer to the first session of the COP. Defining parts of the Committee on Science and Technology and reviewing early efforts to implement the resolution on Urgent Action for Africa, delegates and NGOs also opened conversations on more concrete issues of implementation, participation and partnership.

This session was the second one to be held in the interim period before the Convention comes into force. At this stage, often referred to as "post-agreement negotiations," continued dialogue can push forward the Convention to ensure that the negotiated outcome is well implemented. Thus, the objectives of INCD-7 were to follow up on the quick implementation of urgent action in Africa and not to lose momentum in the interim period. While most agreed that continuity in negotiations has value, the relaxed pace of negotiations — INCD-7 wrapped up in about eight unhurried working days — left some delegates wondering whether less frequent or shorter sessions are in order.

Difficulties appeared on only two issues: finances and the activities under the Convention outside Africa. The lack of firm donor commitments raised delicate questions about the availability of funds and where the next INCD will be held. And throughout the negotiations, non-African delegates were skeptical of how far the CCD would go toward its global objectives.

THE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: The greatest strides at INCD-7 were taken in discussions on the informal paper on the terms of reference of the Committee on Science and Technology (CST), the roster of independent experts and ad hoc panels. These negotiations were limited to dealing with the CST, because the decisions on the roster and panels are not required at the first COP. While there was satisfaction with the fact that a negotiating text is available for INCD-8, some issues remain to be settled.

First, opinions differ on the size of the CST. A number of delegations say that the CST membership cannot be limited, based on CCD language that the CST is open to the participation of all Parties. Some are arguing that it should be a small group of 15 persons, three from each region. They fear that in trying to establish a multidisciplinary and representative group, the Committee in the end will become bureaucratic, politicized and much too large. That would leave substantive work to the ad hoc panels and could make the CST itself superfluous. NGOs suggested that their knowledge and experience at the community level were essential to the CST's effectiveness and the incorporation of participatory practices into the CST's work. Some delegations stressed that if NGOs are to be involved, their representatives must provide some substantive knowledge and not participate only because they live in the field. The size of the CST, however, can only be appropriately determined once its functions are clear.

Another point of divergence emerged with regard to the relationship between the CST and the COP. All agree that the CST is a subsidiary body to the COP, but some favor tying the CST closely to instructions from the COP, whereas others want to give the CST more flexibility and independence. There are two outstanding questions: how much initiative should the CST be able to take and should the CST carry out its own research or simply collect research results, summarize and disseminate them.

The critique was also voiced that the comments at this session on the terms of reference of the CST were mostly of a legal character, copying text from the Convention, and that persons with scientific competence need to make comments of a more substantive nature. This opportunity will be provided. It was agreed that views and suggestions about the text should be made available to the Secretariat by 15 October 1995. The idea to have a CST was driven largely by the presence of similar bodies in the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions. But the complex interface between the social and scientific causes of desertification will require a unique and innovative approach to determine the CST's character, composition and functions.

URGENT ACTION FOR AFRICA: Delegates and NGOs had an opportunity to share experiences on the first concrete attempts to implement the Convention. Just as important were discussions on the financial aspects of implementation. Donor countries expressed a willingness to support activities under the Convention, along with some surprise that available resources had not been fully utilized. Affected countries said they were disappointed by poor responses to their efforts to combat desertification. They felt the field offices of donor countries had not yet heard the message that the CCD had their countries' support.

Yet the difference in perceptions seemed to raise awareness in both groups of where the communication gaps lie. It points to the need for donors and developing countries to find new ways of working on relevant development activities and to seek agreement on which activities are worthy of support. NGOs and developing country delegates stressed that money was needed — and worthwhile — to initiate and support process-oriented activities. Some donor country delegates said it would take some time for their agencies to adapt to the new demands of the CCD. In spite of the initial counter accusations, this discussion seems to have been catalytic to in-the-corridors partnership building between all players.

PREPARATION FOR THE FIRST CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES: Almost all the issues under this agenda item were addressed in decisions requesting the Interim Secretariat to prepare or revise reports. On designation of a Permanent Secretariat, financial rules, the Global Mechanism and programme and budget, Working Group I Chair Mourad Ahmia frequently reminded delegates that their discussions were preliminary, that the task was not to make major decisions immediately. The Working Groups occasionally spoke of delaying reconsideration of certain issues until INCD-9 or 10.

Several factors account for the deliberate pace. One was the overall objective of INCD-7 to move toward negotiating texts without actually beginning to write most texts. Another is the state of ratifications. With only five of the required 50 countries having ratified the CCD, all delegates are aware that they cannot rush decisions that ultimately must be made at COP-1. If the CCD comes into force earlier than expected, the INCD's pace would likely pick up accordingly.

Finally, there is the relationship with negotiations of other conventions, particularly the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions. Delegates refer often to positions in major procedural areas from those negotiations. And despite repeated proclamations that the CCD is on a par with those conventions, it may end up following decisions where negotiators have the additional strength of working under treaties already in force.

Those areas where conflicts were not completely contained in INCD-7 point to future debates in the CCD's future. Among them are the level and type of activity in the Global Mechanism. Donor countries are fairly unified in contending that the Global Mechanism should facilitate but not manage or raise funds. Some developing countries and NGOs want a more activist GM. Another issue relates to contributions to the Convention budget: which will be voluntary, which compulsory and on what scale. The voting procedure, especially regarding financial decisions, was another area of clear disagreement at INCD-7. OECD countries called for decisions by consensus while developing countries proposed two-thirds majority voting as a fallback. All of these, in addition to unaddressed details of the programme and budget, will return as the INCD moves beyond procedure and toward the first COP.

FREQUENCY AND EFFICIENCY OF MEETINGS: The pace set during the negotiation of the CCD, which was concluded in a year, slowed down considerably at INCD-6 and INCD-7. This may seem natural since the negotiations have entered into a second stage, but some delegations felt that the work of INCD-6 and INCD-7 could have been done at one session or during two one-week meetings. Others felt that it was necessary to meet twice not to lose the momentum of the negotiations, so as to avoid what happened at the first Conference of the Parties of the Biodiversity Convention, which suffered from the fact that delegates met only twice during the two-and-one-half year interim period. Monitoring the implementation of urgent action for Africa and action in other regions provides additional grounds for frequent meetings. Regarding next year's meetings, some delegations felt that one meeting would be sufficient, while others feel that since texts are going to be negotiated during 1996, two ten-day sessions would be necessary. In document A/AC.241/L.27, the INCD "recommends to the General Assembly that two sessions be held in 1996, each of up to two weeks duration." It also plans for two sessions in 1997.

FINANCIAL SITUATION (FUNDING): At every session the funding of the work of the INCD has been discussed, but at this meeting the funding situation reached a new level of concern. It is noteworthy that the last item addressed at INCD-7, the venue of the next meeting, was actually a strategy session on funding. If funds are not available to pay for developing country participation, the INCD may move its session. But delaying a decision also risks already committed funds.

Even if some pledges were made, the lack of funding can be precarious because of the slow pace of communication and transfers in the UN budget system. The funds may not reach the Secretariat until February 1996, when INCD-8 is scheduled to meet. In view of the fact that INCD-8 will entail negotiations, some delegates say that the crucial issue is to garner commitments and pledges so that the Interim Secretariat can prepare in good time.

While some delegates seem satisfied with the Secretariat's performance, others feel that its work could be carried out in a more efficient and less costly manner, for instance by holding meetings in Geneva where the Secretariat is based. Some feel that the work of the Secretariat should be funded by the regular budget of the UN and argue that they have already paid for it. They prefer to fund actual projects in the field. Others look at the list of donors and note that a few donors fund this process while others take an active role in the negotiations, but do not contribute to the funding. This triggered a debate on where INCD-8 should be held. Some argue that it is most economical to hold the session in Geneva, as planned, whereas some developing countries prefer New York. They already have representation there, so less money would be spent on airline tickets and hotels. This presents another problem: the alternative delegates might lack expertise on crucial subjects, which could further slow the post-agreement negotiation process.

THE GLOBAL CHARACTER OF THE CONVENTION: Lingering concern of Latin American and Asian delegates over their lack of priority in the eyes of the CCD returned to INCD-7. As the session was concluding, almost every delegation from Latin America expressed its dissatisfaction with the Chair's conclusions, so this debate too will likely continue.

As at the end of INCD-1 and other meetings during the process of negotiating the CCD, the Latin American countries feared that the awareness of the global character of the problem of desertification would be lost if implementation of the Convention focuses on Africa alone. Latin Americans consistently warned against overlooking desertification problems in other parts of the world because of the possible political consequences. If governments outside Africa do not perceive equitable treatment of their concerns, they may have problems ratifying the Convention. This could prolong the interim period before the CCD comes into force. If the non-Africans are competing for support by withholding ratification, the strategy could be self-defeating. The other regions will gain priority once the CCD enters into force. The resolution on Urgent Action for Africa will remain in place regardless.

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