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PROGRAMME 3: TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEMS

3.1 Soils

30. The Assistant Executive Director introduced this sub-programme, noting that it would address the enhancement of international awareness of global soil degradation, assistance to developing countries in formulating and implementing national Soils policies and their integration into development plans, and promotion of the rational use of soils in fragile ecosystems in collaboration with the relevant organizations of the United Nations system and international institutions.

31. Several representatives welcomed the fact that the Executive Director had proposed land degradation as one of UNEP's priority areas and emphasized that UREP should not only focus on formulating national plans, but also on promoting sustainable use of marginal lands and activities that aimed at reducing the pressure on land caused b an ever--iincreasing population.

32. One representative stressed that UNEP's role should be confined to planning activities, acting as a catalyst and tapping new sources of financial support. Another representative urged that priority be given to soil biology, Where knowledge, though essential for proper tropical soil management, was as yet insufficient. The representative was pleased to see the tropical soil biology and fertility Programme of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) reflected in UNEP's programme.

33. One representative explained that despite extensive efforts in his country to reduce erosion and protect soil fertility, the total area of eroded land continued to increase. He supported UNEP's recognition of land degradation as an important issue and added that his country would collaborate closely with UNEP in this field.

34. Another representative expressed his appreciation of the co-operation

between UNESCO and UREP in tropical soils programmes.

35. The observer for UNESCO noted UMW*9 collaboration with UNESCO and IUBS in the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Network and UNESCO's co-operation with UNEP in the A14CEN Soils and Fertilizers Network.

36. Many representatives discussed soil erosion and land degradation in relation to desertification control and the Tropical Forestry Action Plan.

3.2 Arid lands and desertification

37. In his introduction. the Assistant Executive Director observed that the desertification problem was far better recognized today as an environmental issue than it had been in 1977 on the eve of the United Nations Conference on Desertification. However, isolated sectoral anti-desertification projects and their lack of integration with national development plans had led to limited success. Consequently, the main thrust of the subprogramme was technical assistance to developing countries in the preparation of national plans for combating desertification and the establishment of mechanisms to implement them. The Assistant Executive Director requested representatives to provide policy guidance to the secretariat regarding the role of the Consultative Group for Desertification Control (DESCOM), the Special Account to finance the implementation of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification and other international financing measures aimed at implementing the Plan of Action.

38. The Director of the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian office (UNSO) described the activities of the office in the 22 countries south of the Sahara and drew attention to the need to protect the fragile productive base of the area and to arrest biological decline.

39. Several representatives addressed DESCON and the Special Account. Some expressed strong reservations about these two mechanism, stating that both had lacked support, had not lived up to expectations and had not been able to fulfil their task of funding desertification control. They requested that both be abolished. By contrast, other representatives, largely from affected developing countries, maintained that DESCON still had a function as a forum for exchanging experience and that it should concentrate its activities at the national level. One representative emphasized strengthening DESCON at national level; another stated that Its terms of reference should be more clearly defined; and another maintained that it was the only world-wide mechanism for mobilizing financial resources for desertification control. Some representatives expressed their concern at the numerous regional and sub-regional organizations involved in desertification control and called for greater co-ordination and collaboration among them.

40. Certain representatives opposed the creation of new financial institutions for desertification control, arguing against the further proliferation of institutions and bureaucracies; in their view, existing multilateral development banks and bilateral funding arrangements were sufficient for channelling funds on concessionary terms.

41. Other representatives linked debt and desertification.

42. A number of representatives stressed their concern that desertification control might be relegated to second place as an environmental action programme, despite the ever-increasing expansion of the problem and the large numbers of people affected. They asserted that desertification contributed to other environmental problems, such as climate change, and should therefore be a core programme of environmental management. One representative argued that policies and management plans concerning groundwater resources should be developed in conjunction with desertification control and afforestation programmes. Concern was also expressed at the degradation of resources, including soil and water, and a call was made for managing them so as to ensure sustainable development.

43. Many representatives expressed the view that action plans to combat desertification should be integrated with national development plans with emphasis on popular participation. one representative emphasized this approach as one that would attract both international assistance and domestic support. Others said that rather than concentrate on project implementation, UNEP should study long-term desertification problems and their possible solutions. In this regard, one representative suggested that UNEP should play a leading role in evaluating desertification control programmes; others stressed its role in the assessment of desertification.

44. One representative. recalling the discussions at the fourteenth session of the Governing Council that had highlighted the importance of pastoral nomadism, suggested that UNEP's programme should include assistance to one or two countries in the form of a pilot project on environmental management to reduce the destructive character of this way of life.

,45. Another representative called for UNEP's assistance in combating the spread of the Kalahari Desert.

46. The observer for UNESCO reported on his organization's work in implementing the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification and referred to the 1948 conference that had launched UNESCO's Arid Zone Research Programme. He also described the activities of the Integrated Project on Arid Lands (IPAL), Which were supported by UNEP in the implementation of PACD. He added that UNESCO had also participated in the work of DESCON.47. The observer for Greenpeace International maintained that past programmes had addressed the symptoms of desertification rather than its root causes. He stated that environmentally unsound agricultural practices, such as the use of pesticides, had caused degradation of resources and had contributed to the loss of biodiversity, thereby leading to desertification.

48. In response to some of the questions and comments made by representatives, the representative of the secretariat said that nomadism was covered in the proposed programme budget for the biennium 1990-1991. The establishment of a new financing institution for desertification control programmes had been proposed as a response to General Assembly resolution 421189 C, by which the Assembly had requested that the Executive Director discuss with Governments the feasibility of adopting a new and realistic approach to financing the implementation of the Plan of Action. The Special Account would monitor resource flow to desertification control activities as recorded by national accounts and would provide further support to national and regional programmes. Representatives should decide on the future of DESCON and give the Executive Director proper guidance as to how to proceed. UNEP and UNSO would continue to assist Governments to draw up national plans of action to combat desertification and to integrate them into national development plans. Assessment and evaluation of desertification would be one of the concentration areas of UNEP's desertification control programme. However, evaluation was an expensive exercise for which the existing budget would be insufficient.

3.3 Tropical forest and woodland ecosystem

49. The Assistant Executive Director drew attention to current data indicating that some countries had been destroying their natural forest areas at a far greater rate than had been reported 10 years ago. This would result in further losses of genetic diversity, of natural resources and of options for the future, as well as an increase in greenhouse gases. He said that UNEP supported the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) and the UNCTAD International Tropical Timber Agreement of 1983, among other programmes. He said that negotiations were under way to improve incentives to protect and improve the management of tropical forest ecosystems.

50. Many representatives and observers strongly supported the Executive Director's designation of tropical forests as a priority area and urged UREP to increase its work on conservation by increasing both the financial and human resources devoted to the programme.

51. A number of representatives said that UNEP should increase its promotion of biological diversity in concert with Its work on forest conservation since these two subjects were closely related and should be part of a broader global effort to conserve biological diversity. One representative referred to the serious rate of destruction of non-tropical forest ecosystem and stressed the need to pay attention in a balanced way to all forest systems.

52. Many representatives expressed the view that UNEP should work as much as possible through existing programmes a like the Tropical Forestry Action Plan and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).53. One representative urged UNEP to develop cost-effective conservation efforts and to include tropical forests in the proposed convention on biological diversity. He raised the issue of compensation and also mentioned that his country was negotiating "debt for nature swaps", a mechanism currently being considered by the World Bank as well. This was supported by other speakers, while another expressed concern that many developing countries were exporting their natural resources to meet their debt obligations. one representative suggested a mechanism whereby debt could be converted into contributions to environmental organizations such as UNEP.

54. The observer for UNESCO described his organization's work on conservation of tropical forests and other ecosystems in which UNESCO regularly co-operated with UNEP, mainly through its Man and the Biosphere programme. One

representative emphasized the importance of UNEP's contribution to this programme.

55. In response to some of the comments made in connection with subprogramme 3.3, the Deputy Assistant Executive Director, office of the Environment Programme, said that UNEP would continue its efforts to participate in the Tropical Forestry Action Plan and the International Tropical Timber Organization, particularly on environmental conservation.

3.6 Biological diversity and protected areas

56. The Assistant Executive Director described UNEP's work on biological diversity. He also mentioned the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on the need for a global convention on biological diversity and its possible form.

57. Many representatives and observers expressed their concern about biological impoverishment and agreed that, as a major environmental problem, it should be a priority issue for UNEP. They strongly supported the call for a global convention on biological diversity. Several representatives argued that UNEP's role in preparing such a convention should be strengthened and said that co-ordination with the International Union for Conservation of Mature and Natural Resources (IUCN), FAO, UNESCO, and other organizations concerned should be ensured. New Initiatives should take into account work undertaken under the World Heritage Convention, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CKS), the Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves, the Tropical Forestry Action Plan and similar instruments and plans, as well as the work of gene banks.

58. One representative said that although he disagreed with some of the articles of the latest draft convention on biological diversity prepared by IUCE, he believed that consensus could be reached and that IUCN should be encouraged to develop its draft further. UNEP could provide a forum in which a draft convention could be negotiated, taking into consideration the work of FAO, UNESCO and other bodies. While acknowledging that workwas also being done elsewhere, he suggested the creation of a working group within UNEP to undertake the preparation of the draft convention.59. One representative urged strongly that existing relevant conventions should be ratified before discussion was begun on a new one. However, he stated that the IUCN draft was a good starting point for a convention, which could then be signed at the 1992 United Nations conference on environment and development.

60. One representative explained that some existing conventions on the subject were operational, some faced problems, and some were not implemented at all. He suggested an umbrella convention, in which existing conventions could be included and to which items such as biotechnology and technology transfer could be added.

61. One representative argued that UNEP's role in ecosystem conservation should be strengthened and that emphasis should be placed on biological diversity in financial and staff allocations.

62. Several representatives noted the need to preserve genetic resources that provide the raw materials for biotechnological advances in agriculture, the food industry and the health sector. They argued that the importance of these resources merited a new international approach towards the equitable distribution of raw materials as well as of the benefits arising from biotechnology development between developing and industrialised countries. Socio-economic aspects and fair financial arrangements should be given their due importance in any global convention on biological diversity.

63. One representative agreed that the development of a new legal instrument covering ex-situ conservation was necessary, but stated that sufficient work was already being done on in situ conservation; UNEP should therefore focus largely on rationalising existing work in this latter area.

64. One representative recommended the establishment of an international body, along the lines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change (IPCC), to study various aspects of biological diversity, in particular furthering biotechnology in developing countries.

65. Another representative said that the preparation of programmes for the conservation of biological diversity should not await a global convention, but should proceed immediately; the drafting of a global convention could continue as a parallel activity.

66. One representative proposed the creation of a special fund for projects designed to preserve biological diversity. He added that global environmental protection should be linked to new arrangements for dealing with debt and to a new international economic order.

67. One representative noted that genetic resources conservation was indeed essential and that UNEP should undertake practical actions, such as developing guidelines and recommendations for gene preservation.

68. Other representatives argued that the problem went far beyond the conservation of tropical forests and of biological diversity in themselves; population pressure and hunger were also key elements. He stressed the importance of undertaking conservation activities within the framework of national policies and plans of action.

69. One representative said that UNEP had an important role in providing environmental management to conserve biological diversity .

70. Noting the importance of developing national conservation strategies, one representative called for greater effort in registering existing species as a prerequisite to successful conservation.

71. The representative of Brazil drew the attention of the Committee of the recently signed Amazon Declaration of the States parties to the Amazonian Co-operation Treaty, which had been circulated at the current session of the Council as document UNEPIGC.15/L.3. The Declaration reflected their. call interests in the Amazon region and their intention to co operate in the development and protection of its heritage. He stressed the need of developing countries for financial resources and appropriate technology to enable them to make sustainable use of their genetic resources.

72. Several representatives and observers offered to assist UNEP in drafting an international convention on biological diversity. One representative also mentioned the need for a convention on the protection of nature in Arctic regions.

73. Some representatives and the observer for FAO emphasized the need to pay attention not only to plant genetic resources, but also to mechanisms to conserve animal genetic resources.

74. Some representatives and observers, expressing concern about the possible impact of climate change on biological diversity, said that work to preserve biological diversity should take this into account; the two subjects were closely related. Conservation of natural forests was of vital importance to the world climate, just as climate change would alter the distribution of species.

75. Several representatives requested the Executive Director to continue to support the activities of the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in its work on a draft convention on biological diversity.

76. The observer for UNESCO emphasized the importance of the World Heritage Convention and the Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves for the conservation of biological diversity and the need to create biosphere reserves in areas not yet protected.

77. The observer for IUCN stated that his organization supported a global convention based on well-defined criteria covering both in situ and ex situ conservation. He informed the Committee that IUCN had developed draft articles for inclusion in the convention and that these would soon be distributed. He welcomed the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity, in which IUCN would continue to play a part.

78. The observer for FAO stated that his organization had established a global plant genetic resources system in 1983, consisting of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources and the International Fund for Plant Genetic Resources. He outlined the main decisions and recommendations taken in April and May 1989 by the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources and the FAO Committee on Agriculture concerning the issue of animal genetic resources conservation. He also stated that his organization would continue to collaborate with UNEP and other bodies in this field to further the development of an international legal instrument for the conservation of biological diversity.79. The Deputy Assistant Executive Director, Office of the Environment Programme, thanked the observer for IUCN and other representatives for their statements and for introducing the difficult socio-economic issues that had to be incorporated in programmes on biological diversity and in any future convention. That was one of the reasons for the Executive Director's specific request for authority to convene additional working sessions of the Ad Hoc Working Group.

3.7 Microbial resources and related biotechnology’s

80. The Assistant Executive Director highlighted recent progress in biotechnology and its promising potential for achieving sustainable development, if appropriately directed. He also noted possible policy problems and challenges, in particular to developing countries. He said that UNEP's objective in this area was to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks of biotechnology through continuous support for the regional network of microbiological resource centres (Microns), pilot projects, and the work of the joint UNIDO/WHOIUNEP Working Group on Biotechnology Safety.

81. Referring to the work done in this field by FAO and to the work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on biotechnology regulation, some representatives requested UNEP to take full account of these activities to ensure co-ordination.

82. One representative requested UNEP and FAO to develop guidelines for conservation of genetic resources and to take a leading role in the application of biotechnology and plant genetic resources in the fight against hunger.

83. Other representatives recommended that biotechnology and technology transfer should constitute important elements of the proposed convention on global biological diversity. One explained that this would enable developing countries to receive a share of the profits of their genetic resources as raw materials for biotechnology.

84. The observer for FAO stated that his organization had been requested by

the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources in 1989 to monitor the developments

and implications of biotechnology and, in collaboration with other

organizations, to prepare a code of conduct on biotechnology as it affects the conservation and use of plant genetic resources.

85. The observer for UNESCO stated that his organization would continue its collaboration with UNEP by supporting such activities as the regional Microns and pilot applications of sound biotechnologies for increased soil fertility and food production through the IUBS Soil Fertility Network.

86. One representative noted with appreciation the budget provision for training in biotechnology and stated that this would help build infrastructural support and the use of biotechnology by developing countries.

87. Some representatives expressed concern over the testing of genetically engineered organisms in the environment in the absence of appropriate regulation, particularly in developing countries. They went on to state that UNEP should prepare strict international regulations on the testing and use of such organisms.

88. The Deputy Assistant Executive Director explained that UNEP was well aware of the potential applications and implications of biotechnology. It had a role to play, together with other United Nations bodies, particularly in the sound application of biotechnology and in its regulation through the UNIDO/WHO/UNEP Working Group on Biotechnology Safety, of which FAO was expected to become a member.

3.8 Agricultural Lands and Agrochemicals

89. In his introductory statement, the Assistant Executive Director said that the international community was now increasingly aware that chemical pesticide control campaigns must be thoroughly re-examined. In this connection, he singled out desert locust control which, since the beginning of the current plague in 1984, had consistently relied on chemical pesticide use. In addition to its economic implications, this strategy had serious environmental implications. He drew the attention of the Committee to United Nations General Assembly resolution 431203, which called upon the relevant United Nations bodies, including UNEP, to undertake an assessment of the pesticides and techniques currently used in the fight against the reproduction of larvae and to test the efficacy of these pesticides and techniques, bearing in mind their effects on the environment and the health of the people in the affected zones.

90. A number of representatives referred to the relationship between this area of the programme and to the rest of UNEP's work on terrestrial ecosystems. It was noted that poor management of agricultural lands, especially in non-sustainable farming, not only led to desertification, depletion of tropical forests and reduction of biodiversity, but also often to increased use of chemical pesticides which, in turn, created a number of serious environmental and human health hazards.

91. One representative pointed out that desertification in his country resulted mainly from the agricultural methods used and that that generated enormous environmental problems. Noting that the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development had stressed that relationship, he emphasized the need to find a remedy that would reduce overdependence on pesticides in the development of agriculture. He stated that he would propose a draft decision on the development of a clear-cut concept of sustainable agriculture, which he hoped would receive due support from the Governing Council.

92. Another representative, while supporting these views, reported that his country had considerable experience in training managers to reduce the use of pesticides in plant protection and had already co-operated with UNEP in this area.

93. With reference to a draft decision on sustainable agriculture that was before the Committee, the observer for FAO said that that important decision was of direct relevance to his organization's work. However, it might have financial implications for FAO. FAO would consider the text carefully with a view to implementing its provisions in close co-operation with UNEP.

94. The observer for Greenpeace International, noting that unsustainable agricultural development included environmental pollution by excessive use of pesticides, emphasized the need to develop clear policies to promote sustainable agriculture. He called upon UNEP to bring together environmental and agricultural policy-makers to discuss the issue of sustainable development with regard to agricultural policies and practices.

95. In his response, the Assistant Executive Director assured the observer that UNEP's efforts in this area were geared towards achieving environmentally sound and sustainable development. A good example of this was the Cairo Programme for African Co-operation.

General statements on the Terrestrial Ecosystems programme

96. Some representatives expressed their regret that the proposed budget for terrestrial ecosystems had been reduced by two per cent. The Assistant Executive Director replied that this figure was misleading and assured them that the allocation for this budget line did not represent an overall decrease. For example, considerable amounts were allocated for technical and regional co-operation, which also covered Terrestrial Ecosystems.

97. The observer for IUCN stressed the need to have a comprehensive view of the work being done in the area of terrestrial ecosystems and offered assistance in compiling this information. He asked UNEP to note that IUCN's activities were not restricted to the protection of species, as suggested by the proposed programme budget; a major part of the IUCN budget was spent on work concerning sustainable development. The Assistant Executive Director replied that it would not be possible to present a view of all activities as requested, pointing out the amount of paper required to report on UNEP's work.

98. One representative referred to the system-wide medium-term environment programme as a tool for facilitating regional and international co-operation. He urged industrialised countries to provide financial and technological assistance to developing countries not only for environmental protection, but also for economic development.

99. In his concluding remarks, the Assistant Executive Director observed that few representatives had made specific recommendations or asked specific questions. He noted that suggested priority areas, namely land degradation including desertification, and impoverishment of biological diversity, including deforestation, particularly of tropical forests, had received much attention and that he interpreted this as approval for the Executive Director's proposal to concentrate on these issues. He further confirmed UNEP's awareness of the work of other United Nations organizations in this area. He pointed out that the Inter-Agency Working Group on Desertification (IAWGD) served as the co-ordinating body for desertification and also referred to the Ecosystem Conservation Group, in which FAO, UNESCO and UNEP co-operated, as a body with a similar role in ecosystems management. He noted that the World Bank and UNDP were also considering participation.