Second Round Table of Members of Parliament
22 to 23 November 1999 at the UNCCD-COP III

The Role of Members of Parliament in Designing Educational, Scientific and Cultural Policies for the Implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

I. We, members of parliament meeting in Recife, Brazil, from 22 to 23 November 1999 for the second Round Table at the invitation of the Convention Secretariat and the National Congress of Brazil, with the full support of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, in the context of the third session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, declare that:

1. We are deeply alarmed by the impact of land degradation and desertification processes that are occurring, and accelerating, over much of the 30 percent of the Earth's surface, which is designated by the UN as dry or semi-arid. We are conscious that over 70 per cent of this area is used for agriculture or pastoral activities and that approximately 15 per cent of the world's population and 25 per cent of the total land area of the Earth is directly affected by land degradation and desertification processes. We are conscious of the gravity of the situation in different regions of the world as in Africa, a continent where deserts or arid zones constitute two-thirds of the total land area and 73 per cent of the arid land is already seriously or moderately degraded; in Asia where approximately 71 per cent of the Continent's arid lands are severely degraded; in Latin America, where nearly three-quarters of the arid land is moderately or severely degraded; the Mediterranean, where almost two-thirds of the arid land is severely degraded, and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where 40 to 80 per cent of the arid land is severely degraded;

2. It is a cause for great concern that losses of productivity implied by desertification processes severely undermine sustainable economic growth, limit food security and exacerbate susceptibility to famine, often accompanied by large-scale movements of displaced people. The failure of marginally productive land to cope with population pressures, together with increasingly variable climate, including recurrent drought, may already have displaced as many as 25 million people worldwide from their land and constituted a source of inter-communal conflict in many parts of the world;

3. We share fully the founding premise of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, according to which sustainable development cannot be attained unless:

(i) it is clearly oriented towards people, addresses the interests of affected populations and has as its ultimate objective the alleviation of poverty;

(ii) it fully involves affected populations and local communities in the decision-making process, as well as in the implementation of measures to protect the environment, improve land and water resources management and to overcome the main causes of land degradation and desertification;

4. We reaffirm our belief that desertification, poverty, famine, social and political disturbances, wars, migration and the displacement of populations, which have on many occasions led to further serious degradation of the natural environment, are in many cases interconnected;

5. We take note with concern that the consequences of land degradation and desertification pressures fall hardest on developing countries and that remediation programs compete for scant financial resources, much of which is still required for debt repayment and servicing. We urge the international community to seriously consider the ordeal and alienation of heavily indebted least developed countries and urge it to implement appropriate relief measures to be undertaken with the help of the Global Mechanism, particularly in those countries seriously affected by drought and desertification.

II. In affirming our commitment, as members of parliament, to contribute fully to the implementation of the Convention, we congratulate those countries which have ratified the Convention and urge those that have not yet ratified it to do so as soon as possible and join the initiative to make the year 2000 the starting point of the decade to combat desertification. Moreover:

6. We support the wide and active participation of all Parliaments in ratifying countries, in the implementation of the Convention including, where necessary, the introduction, strengthening and implementation of legislation relating to the fight against desertification and the preservation of ecosystems in countries affected;

7. We attach highest importance to the strengthening of educational, scientific and cultural policies through effective public awareness campaigns about the causes and negative effects of desertification, as well as the active participation of civil society, local communities, youth and women in efforts to identify country or region-specific solutions and strategies; We also recognised the need to ensure the raising of awareness on the protection of biodiversity and causes of climate change;

8. We support fully the initiatives of agencies, donor countries and civil society to mobilise financial assistance, through the Convention's Global Mechanism, for the implementation of sustainable development strategies in poor countries with fragile ecosystems.

III. In highlighting the fundamental role that education, science and culture play in the challenge to achieve sustainable development, we members of parliament agree:

9. To initiate with this second Round Table a concerted effort to promote concrete action-oriented measures in the area of education, applied research and capacity building to combat desertification;

10. That such measures could include, for example: awareness raising on production and consumption patterns and their impact on land, water and river basin management, improvement of technical land and water management skills, sustainable use of scarce natural resources including the use of renewable sources of energy, promotion of specific research on the causes and negative effects of desertification, transfer and adaptation of environmentally sound technologies for better land and natural resource management, the effective use of modern and safe bio-technologies to disseminate drought-resistant tree species, the use of state-of-the-art information technologies such as geographic information systems, the rational and integrated management of river basins, and the protection, promotion and utilization of traditional and site-specific technological knowledge and practice

IV. We agree to establish an effective follow-up mechanism by creating an open-ended High-Level Forum of Members of Parliament engaged in the advancement of the Convention objectives and for which we seek the sponsorship of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The High-Level Forum of Members of Parliament:

11. Will meet concurrently with each session of the Conference of the Parties to share information on national initiatives and monitor implementation of Round Table decisions in parliaments of countries that are Parties to the Convention;

12. If necessary, undertakes to work for effective national legislation with a view of facilitating the implementation and harmonisation of provisions of the Convention;

13. Undertakes to submit to the executive branches a proposal for the inclusion, where necessary, in school curricula of disciplines focussing on the protection of the environment and natural resources, particularly land and water resources, so as to make combating erosion and desertification a priority for our countries, as well as for our regional and sub-regional organisations;

14. Undertakes to support the formulation by our respective governments of national action plans or equivalent strategies to combat land degradation, improve water and river basin management and advance applied agricultural and biotechnology research in countries affected by desertification;

15. Underlines the importance of accompanying these national action plans with secured and innovative financing, where financing programs are not in existence, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention;

16. Decides to explore ways of enhancing synergies of these national action plans with other national development priorities such as education and science advancement strategies. As a first step, we recommend that an awareness day on the global environmental problem of erosion and desertification be organised or marked symbolically, possibly on an annual basis;

17. Decides to enhance co-ordination in the implementation of regional action programmes, in particular with respect to the integrated management of river basins, whether these are located within countries or shared by more than one country, and keeping fully into account relevant physical, biological and socio-economic aspects;

18. Requests the Convention Secretariat to compile and synthesise a brief progress report with relevant information regarding Round Table decisions for its attention at the next meeting.

V. We are deeply convinced that Parliaments can play an essential role in the global effort to fight causes of desertification by encouraging far-reaching action geared towards:

19. Promoting inter-regional, regional and sub-regional co-operation and the improvement of relations between our relevant intergovernmental, non-governmental and community-based organisations;

20. Setting-up or continuing, at the local level, measures for sustainable forest management and effective reforestation programmes which involve all stakeholders, in particular civil society representatives, youth and women's associations, in the rehabilitation of degraded land;

21. Widely disseminating relevant information focussing on the linkages between poverty, lack of access to education, technical and scientific knowledge and land degradation and desertification, which tend to reduce development potential of countries;

22. Adopting or maintaining multi-stakeholder action programmes, including between neighbouring countries experiencing drought and desertification, and involving international organisations, donor agencies, national institutions, elected representatives, NGOs and the local population directly affected;

23. Incorporating traditional site-specific technical and cultural knowledge and know-how in policy making.

VI. We Members of Parliament reiterate our urgent appeal:

24. To the international community to address desertification not only as an environmental and/or ecological problem, but also as a serious development problem with severe long-term economic, social, political and environmental consequences, if not mitigated in time;

25. To the developed Parties to the Convention to promote capacity building activities in affected countries, which may include the funding of public awareness, education and research programmes, as well as the dissemination of "best practices" in the field of land, forest management, water and river basin management.

26. To all relevant participants in civil society, such as financial institutions, experts in the fields of finance, commerce, sports, the media and the arts, to support the mobilisation of financial resources for the fight against desertification and land degradation, in particular in those developing countries most seriously affected by desertification, erosion and drought;

27. To academic institutions, the scientific community and research centres for their support in the various tasks of implementing the Convention in countries affected with particular regard to the needs of developing countries;

28. To the Inter-Parliamentary Union to give the widest possible publicity to this Declaration and, notably that it be transmitted to all national parliaments for their attention and engagement;

VII. In closing, we further request:

29. The Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in co-operation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to provide technical support to the High-Level Forum of Members of Parliament in its role of monitoring action carried out by governments, and to mobilise additional resources for the servicing of the High-Level Forum;

30. The Inter-Parliamentary Union to lend its full support to the High-Level Forum of Members of Parliament and to assist in the co-ordination of its work;

31. The Secretariats of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification to continue their co-operation and to submit a proposal for the dissemination of information on progress in fighting desertification by the next session of the Conference of the Parties;

32. Both Secretariats to organise another round table of the High Level Forum of Members of Parliament in conjunction with that session;

33. The Secretariats of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Inter-Parliamentary Union to take follow-up action on the present Round Table decisions and develop strategies in order to achieve universal awareness of the declarations and progress reports of the High-Level Forum of Members of Parliament.

Recife, Brazil, 23 November 1999

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