Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 43, Spring/Summer 1998
Ecotourism in Drylands

The Convention to Combat Desertification after COP-1

by Günter W. Riethmacher and Hassan M. Hassan

"...Given the initial skepticism that greeted the idea of a global desertification convention, the progress made so far is encouraging and bodes well for the future....all indications are that if implemented as created, the CCD could foster a political momentum to address the long-standing problems of land management that pervade every form of human conflict."

Activities at COP-1

(Back to top)

The First Conference of the Parties (COP-1) for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) was held in Rome, Italy, from 29 September to 10 October 1997. COP-1 represents the latest step in a long process of negotiations concerning determination of the need for such a convention, its final design, and its approval and entry into force. By the time COP-1 took place, 118 nations had already ratified the CCD and consequently participated as contracting parties in the negotiations in Rome. As of April 1998, the number of ratifying countries has grown to 124. Although the US and Japan are among the nations that have not yet ratified the CCD, they both have pledged to support a range of activities that promote the implementation of the Convention on the ground.

Following the slogan "Bonn! C'est bon!" the COP-1 delegates choose Bonn, Germany for the location of the Permanent Secretariat of the Convention. Reasons for Bonn's selection include its financially interesting offer, the intense cooperation between Germany and numerous African countries in the area of environment and development, and also the joint housing offered with the Climate Change Convention Secretariat and the United Nations Volunteers Programme in one historic building.

COP-1 also undertook important steps to clarify the structure of the Global Mechanism (GM), the organ of the convention that shall have a catalytic role in linking national and international programs. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome was elected as the institution to host the GM, whose function is to:

  1. identify already-existing financial resources
  2. mobilize and channel financial resources from bilateral and multilateral sources to all levels for project and program design and implementation
  3. make current and new financial flows for CCD-relevant issues transparent to the public.
The management of the GM is supported on the basis of a Collaborative Institutional Arrangement (CIA) with IFAD, UNDP and the World Bank. The first meeting of the Facilitating Committee of the GM was held in the World Bank on March 2nd, 1998. The meeting resulted in general consensus on the goals and functions of the GM and the vision to strongly collaborate with the other international conventions to create financial synergies in times of shrinking aid budgets.

What's special about the CCD?

(Back to top)

A major innovation of this Convention is its holistic and integrative approach to achieve sustainable development goals. The importance of multi-stakeholder commitment, participation, interdisciplinary coordination and partnerships at all levels is essential to the CCD and continued to be a leading vision during COP-1. The fact that the CCD is about partnerships can be seen in the institutional arrangement for the Global Mechanism; in the cooperation between multilateral donors like the World Bank and bilateral projects from Japan, Germany, Norway and other countries; and in the strong participation of NGOs throughout the negotiations and implementation processes. In fact, the creation of such partnerships is one of the major goals, as well as one of the major assets, of the CCD.

In addition, the CCD sees itself as the first international convention to address environmental destruction of natural resources and spread of poverty in rural areas in one effort. Its innovative and participatory design focuses on two key human concerns: survival and preservation of natural resources. Thus, food security and poverty alleviation without further degradation of dryland areas are among the Convention's major objectives.

The CCD is a grassroots Convention. It strongly emphasizes the role of local expertise and traditional knowledge. This shift from a top-down technological approach to a holistic resource management approach, building largely on local and traditional knowledge, is the CCD's most remarkable conceptual improvement over the 1977 Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (PACD). The CCD aims to maintain and improve this indigenous knowledge and disseminate it to other regions as appropriate.

Current implementation activities

(Back to top)

Substantial international commitments and efforts to implement the CCD are currently underway. The European Union, for example, has committed several million US $ to desertification programs. Saudi Arabia's international development assistance includes over US $ 350 million to IFAD. The Netherlands work as a lead agency in CCD activities in Burkina Faso. Spain will help Latin American countries with the implementation of the Convention. Germany, besides functioning as lead agency in Mali and setting up a supra-regional project on CCD-issues as well as a special fund to support African countries in elaborating the National Action Programs (NAPs), is further strengthening existing dryland management projects around the world, amounting to total commitments of some US$ 1,35 billion. Support to IGAD, CILSS, OSS etc. is substantial. Both Sweden and Germany allocated additional resources to the GM for 1998. New projects have been started with partners in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Kuwait has established a network to track shifting sand dunes and a desert studies program at the University of Kuwait. In Senegal an Environment and Monitoring Center has been opened, with special focus on desertification. Bolivia is planning to organize an innovative donor coordination meeting to present bilateral and multilateral donors with 26 projects in the field of desertification control. Haiti is preparing for the involvement of representatives of mayors and civil society groups in the use of national desertification funds and mechanisms of coordination between these funds and other local funds managed by NGOs throughout the country.

A number of regional implementation activities are also taking place, such as Niger's emphasis on strong cooperative arrangements between Africa and Asia in combating desertification. In South America, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay have a joint subregional sustainable development program with a focus on dryland management.

Towards synergy of the CCD with other environmental conventions

(Back to top)

Desertification is defined in Agenda 21 as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities." This definition recognizes the potentially intricate links between climate change, human-induced change such as biodiversity loss, and desertification. Correspondingly, there are numerous opportunities to trigger synergies among implementation activities for several current international environmental conventions, particularly those adopted in the Rio process.

Although the CCD is equal and complementary to the international conventions on climate change (FCCC) and biological diversity (CBD), some developing countries fear that CCD will merely be a "second-class" convention since it does not dispose of a separate financial mechanism parallel to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the FCCC and the CBD. Conversely, some industrialized countries have had misgivings about the CCD's insistence on their commitment to provide substantial financial resources to affected developing countries. However, the means to overcome both these fears lies in the potential the CCD offers for achieving financial synergies. For example, the Global Mechanism can act as a catalyst to more effectively mobilize and channel already existing funding sources, in recognition of the large number of bi- and multilateral donors already actively engaged in projects and programs to combat desertification worldwide.

Furthermore, potential shortcomings of the GM, as perceived by some countries, can be overcome if activities to implement the CCD are linked to objectives that are covered by the other conventions. Such objectives include, for example, the CBD's conservation of globally significant biodiversity, or the FCCC's creation of carbon sinks. Several project examples of this nature are already included in the GEF project portfolio.

In addition, GEF financing opportunities already in place for activities relating to the biodiversity and/or climate change conventions will create synergistic changes to mobilize incremental financial resources for CCD implementation activities in the near future. For example, a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was established under the FCCC at COP-2 in Kyoto. This mechanism opens up the opportunity for developed country parties to finance project activities in desertification areas in developing countries resulting in certified emission reductions. Efforts to develop carbon sinks are an accepted tools to achieve emission reductions under the Kyoto agreement, and dryland afforestation measures could be an effective measure to create such carbon sequestration sinks effectively. Thus, investment in afforestation projects as a tool for sustainable drylands management could become a means for industrialized countries to receive certified carbon credits at the same time that they are helping to implement the CCD.

In sum, given the initial skepticism that greeted the idea of a global desertification convention, the progress made so far is encouraging and bodes well for the future. Developing countries have participated actively throughout the negotiating process. A new partnership has been achieved when it comes to NGO participation in intergovernmental negotiations. Numerous implementation activities are already underway, and COP-1 achieved substantial progress on internal administrative issues. These achievements indicate growing international interest and political commitments towards combating desertification, which were lacking at the time the 1977 PACD was developed. Much work remains to be done, but all indications are that if implemented as created, the CCD could foster a political momentum to address the long-standing problems of land management that pervade every form of human conflict.

bar denoting end of article text

Author Information

(Back to top)

Both of the authors of this article work at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and can be contacted as follows:

Guenter W. Riethmacher
Knowledge Manager
Environment Dept./Dryland Program
The World Bank MC 5823
1818 H St., Washington, D.C. 20433
Tel.: +1 (202) 458-8451
Fax.: +1 (202) 477-0568
Web site:

Hassan Hassan
Principal Environment Specialist
Environment Department
The World Bank
1818 H St, Washington D. C. 20433
Tel: +1 (202) 473-1376
Fax: +1 (202) 477-0568
Web site:

Additional web resources

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification
The official web site of the CCD.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
The official web site of the FCCC.

The Convention on Biological Diversity
The official web site of the CBD.

Trialogue on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification
Hosted by the Department of Social Engineering of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, "the Trialogue is presented as a means of comparing, coordinating and consolidating activities and information related to the three conventions. Focus is placed on providing information on the conventions and specifically highlighting the activities and actions of NGOs."

International: Expert Meeting, Synergies among Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, and the Forest Principles
In March 97 this internationally sponsored meeting, held in Israel, focused on identifying "mechanisms and processes which effectively can promote synergies among many of the measures suggested by the instruments individually."

The following three resource lists on desertification have already been published on web sites maintained by the Office of Arid Lands Studies, The University of Arizona:
Annotated list of web resources on desertification, Arid Lands Newsletter #40
ALN #40 focused on the theme of "The Convention to Combat Desertification, Part I: Africa and the Mediterranean."
Annotated list of web resources on desertification, Arid Lands Newsletter #41
ALN #41 focused on the theme of "The Convention to Combat Desertification, Part II: Asia and the Americas."
Annotated list of web resources on desertification, International Arid Lands Consortium web site
The IALC is an independent, nonprofit research organization supporting ecological sustainability in arid and semiarid lands worldwide.

bar denoting end of article text

About the Arid Lands Newsletter

Link to ALN home page Link to index page for back web issues Link to index page for pre-web issue archive Link to this issue's table of contents