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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF INCD-9

When INCD Chair Bo Kjellén noted at the closing Plenary that this session had accomplished more than he expected, he expressed what many delegates were feeling — slow but steady progress was made at INCD-9. A few said they had lost their fire and new blood is needed to ignite it. Newcomers said that although the issues were difficult they sensed a real willingness from all parties to find consensus, unlike many other processes of this kind.

Negotiations dealing with rules of procedure, scientific and technological cooperation, financial rules and procedures for communication of information and review of implementation were largely completed. The main issues that remain to be resolved at INCD-10 are the function of the Global Mechanism and its host institution, as well as the physical and administrative host of the Permanent Secretariat. The programme and budget of the Permanent Secretariat, which was not on the agenda at INCD-9, will be discussed at INCD-10.

Although Working Group I was bogged down by disagreement on the Global Mechanism, Working Group II sailed smoothly through most of its agenda, allowing even a brief look ahead at what to include in the work programme of the Committee on Science and Technology. Nevertheless, some delegates complained that time could have been used more efficiently, especially since meetings were often delayed by up to forty-five minutes. This was largely as a result of consultations in regional groups. Some suggested that time should be allocated before INCD-10 for regional groups to prepare their positions, to be followed by a shorter INCD session. The proponents of a shorter INCD-10 argued that longer sessions only serve to allow delegates to postpone making difficult decisions.

IMPLEMENTATION MEASURES UNDERWAY: Many delegates expressed satisfaction with the reports on the implementation measures being undertaken in all regions. Presentations from affected African countries reflected that their preparations had now moved from awareness raising to addressing legal and policy provisions to create an enabling environment for the participation of affected populations. Some noted that the achievements of the action programmes so far demonstrate that the Convention is worthwhile. Delegates felt that in spite of the fact that the time allocated to this debate was shorter than in the past, the reports were still of high quality. Many also attributed this to good organization and cooperation from delegates. A speakers list was prepared and publicized well in advance, delegates adhered to the five-minute time limit per speaker and many circulated supplementary information.

STEADY PROGRESS ON RATIFICATIONS: Instruments of ratification trickled in steadily during INCD-9, bringing the total to 47. With only three ratifications to go to reach the required 50, the Convention is expected to come into force in early 1997. Despite this positive development, some developing countries expressed concern that the Convention was not considered important enough by Northern countries, such as the US, the UK, France and Japan, who have not yet ratified it. Some stated that although the South has already ratified conventions that are of interest to the North, the North seems to have lost interest in ratifying and funding CCD implementation. Others argued that the problem is not the lack of political will, but the bureaucracy involved in ratification processes in some of these countries.

DESIGNATION OF THE PERMANENT SECRETARIAT: While the bidding on the physical location of the Permanent Secretariat has begun, some delegations regretted that no offer came from Africa. The main contenders seem to be Montreal, where the cost of living is lower and co-location with the Biodiversity Secretariat could be advantageous, and Bonn, where the Climate Change Secretariat is located and whose country offered the largest financial package. Observers noted that both are trying to establish themselves as international cities. The third contender, Murcia, in Spain, has the attraction of being located close to desertified areas, but many delegates privately quipped, “how does one get there?”

Considering the UN’s current financial constraints, the political pressure the organization is being subjected to, and the haunting past of the 1977 UN Conference on Desertification and its Programme of Action to Combat Desertification, which were marked by a lack of political will to mobilize financial resources to combat desertification, the final decision may well be in favor of the best economic offer. Yet, some caution that even such an attractive offer may be superseded by the usual politicking. Many hoped that the action taken at INCD-9 to establish a contact group consisting of the Bureau members, Working Group Chairs, representatives of regional groups and the bidding countries, would safeguard against such politicking and provide a transparent method in making this choice.

Although both WMO and UNDP have signaled an interest in providing support to the Permanent Secretariat, the strongest contenders seem to be UNEP and the UN itself. Some delegates suggested that placing the Secretariat directly under the UN and its Secretary-General would give the Secretariat a higher status, while under UNDP or UNEP it would be closer to the field. The latter seemed preferable to some in the light of the Convention’s participatory approach. Others suggested that the UNEP administration would be desirable in order to emphasize that the Convention addresses environment and not solely development issues. Some believed that oversight by the Secretary-General would be more detached and give the CCD Secretariat more autonomy, an aspect that some desired while others expressed reservations about the consequences. Notwithstanding other arguments, it seemed clear that all groups are treading cautiously and closely watching the performance of the Secretariats of the Biodiversity and Climate Change Conventions, in particular with respect to transparency, acceptance of the predominant role of the COP, and administrative and decision-making procedures. The anticipated reforms in UNEP will also have implications for the INCD’s decision.

The OECD group of countries seemed surprised that the G-77 and China expected a decision on the administration of the Permanent Secretariat at this session. They argued that it was not decided this early in other negotiations and that they needed time to consult their home departments to solve technical issues, as well as to receive more details regarding the bids. Members of the G-77 and China were disappointed that a decision could not be taken. Some believed that the OECD group of countries was stalling and not giving priority to these negotiations.

Some delegates have suggested that some people are linking the choice of location and host institution. At present, UNEP provides administrative support to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is located in Montreal. The UN Secretary- General provides administrative support to the Secretariat of the Convention on Climate Change, which is located in Bonn. The bidding cities and institutions noted that their offers are not linked together, and that the institutional presence of UNEP and the UN are not limited to a single location.

DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Negotiations on the Global Mechanism’s function of mobilizing resources was, for many, a repeat of the experience in Paris in June 1994. The late night meetings by informal groups, frequent adjournment of meetings, and a contact group were all used by Working Group I and were familiar to those who had followed the same issue at INCD-5 in Paris.

Nevertheless, delegates were content with progress made on the Global Mechanism. Positions appeared to be clearer now than they were at INCD-8 and regional groups were more direct about what they wanted. Some fear that the GM will be only a costly and ineffective administrative body. One delegate joked that it should be restricted to an address on the World Wide Web. Others said the Global Mechanism is the heart and soul of the Convention. They complained that even though there is now consensus that desertification is a global problem and African countries are ready to implement the CCD, the lack of decision on the Global Mechanism signifies that there is still reluctance to support the Convention.

Several delegates remarked that the lack of consensus on the still outstanding issue is due to a confusion between the role to be played by the institution that hosts the Global Mechanism and the role of the Mechanism, which itself is not an institution. Several delegates noted that the GM cannot take the lead in mobilizing financial resources, which the Convention states clearly is the role of the Parties. The GM can only act where there is need and play a lobbying and facilitating role. Many delegates expressed fear that without multilateral arrangements, some countries and important sectors will be left out and conditionalities that come with aid may creep into the Convention. Furthermore, no mechanisms are in place to tap into the widely hailed private resources.

Delegates offered various reasons to explain the source of frustration they felt during these negotiations. Some delegates expressed concern that delegates who were not involved in the negotiation of the GM in Paris now want to renegotiate the Convention. Others suggested that the discussion was started too late in the session to realize much progress on such a difficult issue. Another factor was the poor preparation among delegates, mainly due to the frequent, unplanned changes in the agenda of Working Group I. Others suggested that more progress might have been achieved if, instead of informally exchanging text, a small drafting group comprising all interest and regional groups had been established. One delegate commented that the Mechanism would forever haunt the Convention.

UNIQUENESS VERSUS PRECEDENT: A recurrent theme at INCD-9 was whether or not to follow the precedent of other UN Conventions, especially the “sister” Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions. Observers who had followed other conventions but were new to the CCD recognized a number of the debates. For example, in the debate over several paragraphs of text in the decision on financial rules, Climate Change “junkies” preferred to replicate decisions that had been taken by the Climate Change Convention’s COP while others wanted to push for more than that common denominator. Agreed language is often used in UN negotiations of all kinds, but not without the desire of some to go further and cautions by others that the agreed language is the best that can be accomplished. Some delegates also noted the tendency to insist on precedent when it supported a negotiator’s preferences, only to argue for the uniqueness of the CCD and need for original language when it did not. The tension between precedence and uniqueness will continue to face delegates to the CCD long after COP-1.

SCIENCE VERSUS POLITICS: Substantive debates over the balance between scientific input and political decision making, which have plagued other UN negotiations, have also emerged in INCD deliberations. Working Group II addressed the issue in texts on the creation of the Committee on Science and Technology and rules of procedure. Observers who have followed the INCD process since its beginning were surprised at the ease with which the contentious issues in the texts related to scientific and technological cooperation were now resolved. However, the desire that the COP should remain sovereign was an underlying force in many of the decisions.

During discussion of the rules of procedure, for example, the G-77 and China argued that subsidiary bodies, such as the Committee on Science and Technology, should not be allowed to vote except for elections of the Bureau because, if subsidiary bodies are authorized to vote, the COP may be unable to call into question their decisions. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), which met in Montreal during the first week of INCD- 9, also attempted to recognize the need for balance between political and scientific input, with the Chair suggesting from the outset that the SBSTTA not become a “mini-COP,” as the previous year’s deliberations had been labeled. Negotiations on the CCD will provide one forum in which this tension between politics and science will continue to be played out on the international stage.

NGOS GAIN GROUND: Negotiating sessions are always the most frustrating periods for NGOs because they find it difficult to lobby for their positions. But several delegates and NGOs alike said that the NGOs, in spite of having made few direct inputs from the floor, had realized many gains, primarily due to better preparations prior to and during the session. NGOs submitted their texts early for the regional groups to consider, which enabled some of their inputs to be taken on board. In several cases, when they followed through with one-on-one lobbying, their texts were adopted. Delegates also noted that NGOs also made good use of their daily publication, ECO.

THE ROAD TO THE COP: The momentum gained from incoming ratifications and the steady progress at INCD-9 led many to believe that the preparations for the first Conference of the Parties (COP-1) may be concluded at INCD-10 in January 1997, making an eleventh session unnecessary. Despite UN General Assembly arrangements for an eleventh session (probably in August 1997), the INCD Chair only anticipates the need for consultations between INCD-10 and COP-1 (planned for September or October 1997). A number of delegates expressed concern that the four-month period between INCD-9 and 10 may be insufficient for delegates and the Secretariat to complete the requested work, necessitating further consultations. In view of these two points, a number of delegates suggested postponing INCD-10 until August 1997. Some noted that unresolved issues thereafter can be decided at COP-1. While some have constantly compared the INCD and Climate Change Convention processes and have argued that not holding an eleventh session relegates the Convention to an inferior position, others have noted that one reason an INCD-11 may not be needed is that the CCD has benefited from the groundwork laid by the previous conventions.

In spite of the short formal sessions of Working Group I during both the eighth and ninth INCD sessions, the remarkable progress made by the Group at INCD-9 may be a pointer towards the importance of consultations between the regional groups before negotiating. Granted the short interval to INCD-10, and the relative difficulty of the issues that remain to be resolved, the proposal to have adequate time for regional consultations at the beginning of the next session seems vital. The suggestion of some that delegates return to the “spirit” of the Paris negotiations may also provide the needed impetus to complete the INCD’s work at its final session before COP-1.

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