United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

With the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD), the international community recognises that desertification is a major economic, social and environmental problem of concern to many countries in all regions of the world.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 called on the United Nations General Assembly to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a convention on desertification. The Convention, frequently named as one of the “Rio Conventions” alongside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), was adopted in Paris in 1994 and entered into force in 1996. The UNCCD currently has 191 Parties.

Objective and Approach

The objective of the UNCCD is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serios drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, through effective action at all levels, supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach, which is consistent with Agenda 21, with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in affected areas (article 2).

The Convention formulates a range of obligations of affected country Parties as well as of developed country Parties. The general obligations include

  • adopting an integrated approach addressing the physical, biological and socio-economic aspects of desertification and drought
  • giving due attention to the situation of affected developing country Parties with regard to international trade, marketing arrangements and debt
  • integrating strategies for poverty eradication into efforts to combat desertification
  • promoting cooperation among affected country Parties in the fields of environmental protection and the conservation of land and water resources
  • strengthening subregional, regional and international cooperation
  • cooperation within relevant intergovernmental organisations
  • determining institutional mechanisms and
  • promoting the use of existing financial mechanisms and arrangements.

National Action Programmes (NAP) are one of the key instruments in the implementation of the Convention. They are strengthened by Action Programmes on Sub-regional (SRAP) and Regional (RAP) levels. National Action Programmes are developed in the framework of a participatory approach involving the local communities and they spell out the practical steps and measures to be taken to combat desertification in specific ecosystems.

The Convention has five Regional Implementation Annexe for Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Northern Mediterranean, and Central and Eastern Europe. These annexes describe the particular conditions of the specific regions, the commitments and obligations of the specific regional country Parties and of developed country Parties, and identify contents and priority areas for national as well as subregional and regional action programmes.

Institutional structure

Conference of the Parties (COP):The Conference of the Parties is the Convention’s supreme governing and decision-making body. Its tasks include, amongst others, to regularly review the implementation of the Convention, to promote and facilitate the exchange of information on measures adopted by Parties, to establish subsidiary bodies, and to promote and strengthen the relationship with other relevant conventions. The COP has met six times; the seventh session of the COP will be held in October 2005 in Kenya.

Committee on Science and Technology (CST): The Convention establishes a Committee on Science and Technology as a subsidiary body to the Conference of the Parties. The CST’s main task is to provide the COP with information and advice on scientific and technological matters relating to desertification and the mitigation of the effects of drought. To this end, the CST sends recommendations to the COP. The Committee meets in conjunction with the ordinary sessions of the COP.

Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC): A its fifth session in 2001, the COP established the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention as a subsidiary body of the COP to assist it in regularly reviewing the implementation of the Convention and to facilitate the exchange of information on measures adopted by Parties for implementing the Convention. The CRIC adopts conclusions and recommendations. The Committee currently meets at sessions of the COP and once between sessions of the COP.

Secretariat: The Convention establishes a Secretariat, tasked with, amongst others, making arrangements for sessions of the COP and its subsidiary bodies, compiling and transmitting reports, and facilitating assistance to affected developing countries. The Secretariat is located in Bonn, Germany.

Financial mechanisms: In order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of existing financial mechanisms, the Convention establishes a Global Mechanism (GM) to promote actions leading to the mobilization and channelling of substantial financial resources to affected developing country Parties. COP 1 selected the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to house the GM. The GM acts as a hub for a dynamic network of partners, committed to focusing their energies, resources and knowledge on combating desertification. The GM not only mobilises financial resources, but also channels their flow, thereby guaranteeing increased financial effectiveness and efficiency and ensuring a holistic and equitable approach to resource distribution. In addition, COP 6 in 2003 accepted the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as a financial mechanism of the UNCCD. This decision corresponds to the establishment of land degradation as a new GEF focal area, operationalised through the Operational Programme on Sustainable Land Management.