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A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
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Second Conference of the Parties to the Convention to Combat Desertification

Item #d99jan43

In 1992, the U.N. General Assembly called for an international convention to combat desertification in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa. To draw up this convention, the United Nations established the International Negotiating Committee on Desertification (INCD). At an organizational meeting in January 1993 and five subsequent meetings, that committee drafted the Convention and four regional annexes for Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Northern Mediterranean. The Convention was adopted on June 17, 1994; was opened for signature; and entered into force on December 26, 1996. As of October 22, 1998, 144 countries had ratified the Convention and had become parties to it. The Convention recognizes (1) the physical, biological and socioeconomic aspects of desertification; (2) the importance of redirecting technology transfer so that it is demand-driven; and (3) the involvement of local populations. It seeks to develop national and subregional/regional action programs to halt or reverse desertification that are conducted by national governments in cooperation with donors, local populations, and nongovernmental organizations.

Before the Convention entered into force, the INCD established the Secretariat’s program and budget, the functions of and administrative arrangements for the global mechanism to combat desertification, the Permanent Secretariat, and the Committee on Science and Technology (CST). It made significant progress on scientific and technological cooperation; however, it could not agree on the size and membership of the bureau that would oversee the operations of the Conference of the Parties, host institutions, and some functions of the global mechanism.

The first Conference of the Parties (COP-1) to the Convention met in Rome in the fall of 1997 and included the 102 states that had ratified the Convention at that time. COP-1 dealt largely with organizational matters. It selected Bonn, Germany, as the location for the Permanent Secretariat; it designated the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to administer the global mechanism; it established an ad hoc panel to survey benchmarks and indicators; and considered linkages between traditional knowledge and modern technology. Plenary meetings were devoted to NGO dialogues on building partnerships within the Convention.

The Second Conference of the Parties (COP-2) met in Dakar, Senegal, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 1998. In preliminary housekeeping, it approved the institutional linkage between the Convention and the U.N. Secretariat, the headquarters agreement with the government of Germany, adjustments to its budget, and rules of procedure. In addition, Eastern and Central European countries were invited to submit a draft for a regional-implementation annex, and the CST established an ad hoc panel on links between traditional and modern knowledge. In the course of the meeting, the delegates could not come to final agreement on the Secretariat’s medium-term strategy, the memorandum of understanding about the global mechanism between the COP and IFAD, and a proposal put forward by China and the G-77 countries to establish a Committee on the Review of the Implementation of the Convention. Furthermore, late starts on the UNEP survey of existing networks and the operation of the Global Mechanism meant that no substantive actions or deliberations could be carried out on these topics.

Deliberations during the meeting revealed different perspectives among the parties on how the Convention should translate the theory of partnerships into action. On the one hand, it is an international coordinating body; on the other hand, it must inspire action at the local level. The Convention and its parties seek to accomplish both roles by relying on horizontal partnerships among the COP, national governments, and local-level actors. However, differences of opinion on how to set up these partnerships or what form they are to take emerged at the meeting and slowed it down.

Another sticking point was the Convention’s particularity to Africa while being a global convention. The African Group requested three Bureau seats, one more than originally planned. Given that the president of the meeting was African, they accepted two delegates’ being elected to the Bureau in a show of cooperation. During the opening ceremonies, representatives from Taiwan appeared among the delegates. This awkward situation, which threatened to derail the negotiations, was smoothed over when the host country expressed regret for the appearance and affirmed that U.N. rules and resolutions would be followed.

The differences on how the COP should evoke local actions were embodied in the G-77/China and the OECD approaches. The G-77/China countries wanted to take an all-encompassing-overview approach to implementation, whereas the OECD countries favored national action programs (NAPs), which the G-77/China countries considered to be too singular in focus. The delegates tried to get around this potential logjam by adopting recommendations for panels or studies to focus on specific actions and for basing implementation on partnership arrangements. Complicating the matter was the divergence in viewpoint about the basic role of the Secretariat. Most participants do not consider the Secretariat an implementing body. The OECD countries want to focus the Secretariat’s activities on horizontal partnerships. The G-77/China countries, however, would like to see the Secretariat sponsor regional and national meetings and establish regional coordinating units. Supporters of this view see these meetings and units as ways for international guidance to have an effect at the local level; detractors do not believe that influence can trickle down like that.

Presentations by NGOs on local activities and concerns indicated that the Convention and its Secretariat can advance vertical partnerships while remaining an international body. These presentations expressed a spirit of dialogue with a focus on possible ways to enhance collaboration between the NGOs and governments. The COP seemed to recognize the important role and the input that NGOs can have in implementation, an essential step in charting a course toward enlisting local involvement, visualizing how implementation can be accomplished, and recognizing the framework necessary to achieve these ends. Still needed is an enabling mechanism for involving all stakeholders and interest groups.

The meeting saw repeated calls for synergies among the Rio conventions (e.g., the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Convention on Biological Diversity) and coordination of their activities to produce an efficiency in the use of resources and tangible actions. The CCD could offer a lot to the other conventions, especially if it can balance (1) international, national, and local actions and (2) environment and development objectives. The goal here would be to develop an overarching framework under which partnerships can be strengthened and pursued at all levels to achieve a broad range of environmental objectives.

In retrospect, the deliberations at the Second Conference of Parties highlighted areas and partnerships that need reinforcement and opened up additional opportunities for participation in the process. Major steps that were taken include the informal dialogue on implementation of national action programs and dialogues with NGOs. The deadlocks and deferred decisions resulted from differences in emphasis on partnership-building strategies rather than from differences in objectives.

The Third Session of the Conference of the Parties was scheduled for Recife, Brazil, Nov. 15-26, 1999. In the meantime, meetings of the Bureau, the CST, and the ad hoc panel on traditional knowledge will be held. Additional information on any of these meetings can be obtained from the Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification, Geneva Executive Center, 11/13 Chemin des Anemones, 1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland; tel: +41-22- 979-9111; fax: +41-22- 979- 9030/31; e-mail:; WWW: At some time in the future, the Secretariat’s new addresses will be P.O. Box 260129, Haus Carstanjen, D-53153 Bonn, Germany; tel: +49-228-8152800; fax: +49-228-8152899; e-mail:; WWW: A complete summary of the proceedings of the Second Session is available on the World Wide Web at

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