The United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (and Drought)

Following a Cabinet Decision of 03 April 1997, Barbados acceded to the Convention on August 12, 1997.  The Convention is the principle international instrument addressing the global problem of land degradation and drought. The National Committee was convened and has undertaken an important role as a project steering Committee.  However at its meeting of March 11, 2014, Cabinet agreed that the functions of the National Land Degradation Committee should be taken up by the Working Group on Biodiversity.

The international community has long recognized that land degradation/desertification is a major economic, social and environmental problem of concern to many countries in all regions of the world. In 1977, the United Nations Conference on Desertification (UNCOD) adopted a Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (PACD). Despite this and other efforts, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded in 1991 that the problem of land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas had intensified, although there were ”local examples of success”. As a result, the question of how to tackle desertification was still a major concern for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Conference supported a new, integrated approach to the problem, emphasizing action to promote sustainable development at the community level.

The Rio Conference  called on the United Nations General Assembly to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INCD) to prepare, by June 1994, a Convention to Combat Desertification, particularly in Africa. In December 1992, the General Assembly agreed and adopted resolution 47/188 on this matter. Working to a tight schedule, the Committee completed its negotiations in five sessions. The Convention was adopted in Paris on 17 June 1994 and entered into force on 26 December 1996, 90 days after the 50th ratification was received. 194 countries and the European Union are Parties as at April 2015. The Conference of the Parties (COP), which is the Convention’s supreme governing body, held its first session in October 1997 in Rome, Italy. So far, the COP has had eleven regular and one extraordinary sessions, the latest of which (COP 11) took place in Windhoek, Namibia, in September 2013.

At the Eighth Conference of the Parties in Madrid in September 2007, the UNCCD entered a new phase with the adoption of the 10-year strategic plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention (The Strategy). This new development has taken the Convention to new ground. Most importantly, Parties have laid out a clear vision for a period of ten years in The Strategy, which is to forge global partnerships to reverse and prevent desertification and land degradation. These partnerships are also meant to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas. Coupled with the vision is a Strategy mission: To provide a global framework to support the development and implementation of national and regional policies that are to contribute to the reduction of poverty.

About the Convention

Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Established in 1994, UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found. In the 10-Year Strategy of the UNCCD (2008-2018) that was adopted in 2007, Parties to the Convention further specified their goals: “to forge a global partnership to reverse and prevent desertification/land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability”.

The Convention’s 195 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought. The UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation. The UNCCD secretariat facilitates cooperation between developed and developing countries, particularly around knowledge and technology transfer for sustainable land management.

As the dynamics of land, climate and biodiversity are intimately connected, the UNCCD collaborates closely with the other two Rio Conventions; the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to meet these complex challenges with an integrated approach and the best possible use of natural resources.