The Unccd Process in its First Decade

One decade after its entry into force, the UNCCD remains an intriguing case to study, not only in a view of globalization but also in terms of global environmental governance. However, owing to the relative youth of the UNCCD process, no studies are yet available to evaluate the achievements of the UNCCD in a manner that could possibly match the insights of the case studies available for many other multilateral environmental agreements. In the following section, I will outline how the UNCCD has thus far been implemented and how this relates to the global political issue that desertification has become in the two decades preceding the adoption of the convention. As is to be expected, the implementation of the UNCCD strongly reflects its genesis in the context of the UNCED and the ensuing ubiquity of the sustainable development paradigm in global environmental policy making. In fact, as the only one of the so-called Rio Conventions that was actually spawned, as opposed to being opened for signature at the Rio Summit, the UNCCD gives ample reference to the norms and principles that dominated debates at the UNCED [47,51,52]. In particularly notable distinction from the time-honored international environmental agreements of the 1970s and 1980s, the UNCCD places a strong and explicit emphasis on the involvement of nongovernmental stakeholders, particularly community based organizations, thereby reflecting the UNCED's emphasis on participatory approaches to policy making and implementation. The relative success in this endeavor is reflected by a growing number of studies that scrutinize the influence exerted by non-state participants in the UNCCD process [5,27,5355]. Moreover, the "spirit of Rio" has also transpired to respective provisions in the convention that are meant to further decentralize modes of governance and to appropriately appreciate local knowledge in the combat against desertification [52,56-59].

Consequently, many professionals engaged in the implementation of the convention, both at national and international levels, do not necessarily perceive the UNCCD as an environmental treaty. This reading of the convention is prominently underscored by UNCCD officials, who like to promote the UNCCD as "the sustainable development convention" in order to distinguish it from the plethora of multilateral environmental agreements. In fact, highlighting once more the complexity of desertification, implementation of the UNCCD is also intended to be instrumental in the global fight against poverty [12]. Poverty, it is recognized, can be both a cause and a consequence of dryland degradation.

Consequently, measures to combat desertification should ideally address poverty and sustainable land management simultaneously [60]. Many have subsequently considered the UNCCD as a development convention and its primary objective as fighting poverty, thereby reflecting salient differences of opinion that protracted the negotiations of the convention between developing and developed countries. The underlying desire, mostly on part of developing countries, to fashion the UNCCD's implementation in a manner that prioritizes poverty reduction over environmental protection is as apparent as it is politically legitimate. It is for this precise reason, however, that developed countries have been reluctant to acknowledge desertification as a global commons problem and to commit themselves to substantive legal obligations. Hence, the future success or failure of the UNCCD will arguably depend on the effective mediation of divergent perspectives on the environment-poverty-nexus [61].

Thus far, the implementation of the UNCCD has been predominated by its formal institutionalization at the international level and within the geographical regions specified in the respective annexes to the convention [12]. Formally, this process began with the first Conference of Parties (COP), which convened in Rome in the fall of 1997, although some institutional provisions had already been taken in the interim period following the adoption of the convention and during which the negotiations committee continued to meet. Constituted by all signatories of the convention, the COP is the political core around which the UNCCD regime is built. It convenes every two years and acts as the principal governing body of the convention. In this function, the parties are seconded by a Committee on Science and Technology (CST) and, since 2002, a Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC).* The former is designed to promote the coordination of scientific research on desertification related issues and to facilitate the transfer of relevant technologies between the parties, thereby paying special attention to local know-how and practices. The latter is meant to meet on an annual basis to provide for a continual review of the implementation of the convention and to develop policy recommendations accordingly. All of these bodies are serviced by the UNCCD Secretariat that, after an interim period at the UN offices in Geneva, took its permanent offices alongside the UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn, Germany, in 1999 [62]. Although considerably smaller than the latter, the UNCCD Secretariat operates on equal footing in terms of international protocol, which implies an elevated status compared to the majority of environmental treaty secretariats, at least formally [63]. One manifestation thereof, the UNCCD Executive Secretary is ex officio Assistant Secretary-General to the United Nations. As the administrative hub within the UNCCD regime, the secretariat also maintains the interlinkages of the UNCCD with other international agencies, notably the United Nations headquarters, the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the climate change and biodiversity conventions as well as a number of regional organizations and a range of banks

* The CRIC was formally established by COP-5 in Geneva in October 2001 (ICCD/COP(5)/L.15.).

and funding agencies [64]. Due to their placement, perhaps, within this complex institutional setting, procedural and institutional matters dominated the first couple of COP meetings. Again reproducing the compromises of the original negotiations, much time has been spent in particular debating the financing of UNCCD implementation. In this respect, the convention provides for a global mechanism, which is administered through the IFAD and is meant to liaise between UNCCD related development projects and the appropriate multilateral donor agencies [65]. Yet, developing countries made it clear that they felt shortchanged by lack of a genuine UNCCD funding mechanism. The issue proved to be a major bone of contention at virtually every COP gathering, but has meanwhile been ameliorated, if not entirely solved, by the incorporation of sustainable land management into the portfolio of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as of 2003 [66]. This has been perceived by many as an overdue step, which developing countries, notably from Africa, had aspired to ever since the establishment of the GEF in 1994. Not least, GEF eligibility in its own right signifies the globalization of desertification because the facility is exclusively mandated to fund projects pertaining to the protection of the global commons. Following this breakthrough in the international institutionalization of the UNCCD, governments eventually turned to the substantive aspects of on the ground policy implementation at their sixth COP, which was held in Havana, Cuba, in 2003. Yet, the issue of financing the convention process and the UNCCD's eligibility for GEF funds is exemplary for the many issues that had proven insurmountable throughout the negotiations and which basically remained unresolved at the time the UNCCD was adopted. Hence, time and again these issues return to haunt the parties, thus arguably inhibiting a more efficient implementation of the convention. Indeed, it appears uncertain whether the challenges associated with the transition from formal institutiona-lization to substantive operationalizing will effectively be solved in the immediate future [67].

Thus far, serious judgments of the UNCCD's effectiveness in terms of tangible impacts on the ground can hardly be made. As might be expected, however, the few qualitative case studies that are available indicate marked discrepancies between regime intentions and local implementation [56,58]. Although the high-flying sustainable development principles laid out in the convention transpire to national discourses on land development policies, they have a long way to go to eventually converge with the realities of local communities affected by desertification. Analytically, an assessment of the UNCCD's impact on the ground is further exacerbated by the fact that links between local land management policies and national applications of UNCCD provisions often remain vague. Even if these links could be clearly identified, the separation of the specific outcomes of the UNCCD from the background noise of general political and socio-economic developments will remain problematic [68]. Indeed, a satisfactory solution is not in sight as to how certain observable effects may be causally attributed to the implementation of the UNCCD amidst myriad variables that are potentially interfering with the complexity of desertification [69].

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