The first ICID, entitled The International Conference on Impacts of Climate Variation and Sustainable Development in Semi-arid Regions, was held in Fortaleza, Brazil, from January 28 to February 1, 1992. ICID was held to a contribute to Rio 92, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. ICID provided the UNCED processes with essential scientific information on the ecological and social conditions in all semi-arid regions of the world.
Among ICID’s notable successes was the use of this material to support UNCED’s decision to call on the United Nations to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a Convention to Combat Desertification. This call ultimately led to the UN Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD), signed in 1994 and effective since December 1996. So far, 192 countries have ratified this Convention, promoting effective action through innovative local programs and supportive international partnerships.
ICID was attended by 1200 participants from 45 countries from all semi-arid regions in the world and practically all significant institutions with a stake in the development of semi-arid regions. Over 70 studies were prepared for and discussed at ICID, and its general assembly drafted the Declaration of Fortaleza, calling for policy makers to promote the sustainable development of semi-arid regions as a way to make them less vulnerable and more able to face present and future crises, be they climate related or not.
In addition to The Declaration of Fortaleza, ICID produced the volume Climate Variability, Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the Semi-arid Tropics (in the IPCC series of Cambridge University Press 1996, reprinted 2005), which has been extensively cited since. A multi-volume proceedings of all the papers and conference documents was also published in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Most importantly, ICID nourished discussions at Rio 92 placing the issues of arid and semi-arid regions higher on the Rio 92 agenda and stimulating development investment in semi-arid regions in the years since.
Within Brazil, ICID’s recommendation to pursue the sustainable development of semi-arid regions spawned the Aridas project, a multi-state effort that involved the state governments in the semi-arid Northeast, the federal government, universities and civil society. Aridas developed methods for planning sustainable development policies in semi-arid lands, and these methods were applied by the state governments of Northeast Brazil. Other important policies, like the national water management policy, were influenced by the Aridas approach. By developing a method for evaluating and approving state development plans, the project was able to introduce mechanisms for environmental, social, economic, institutional and political sustainability within a long-term context, considering, among other development considerations, the risks of climate change.
Since ICID and UNCED in 1992, three so-called ‘Rio Conventions’ have been approved and entered into force: the UNCCD, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol; and the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (UNCBD). These complementary conventions each support actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. All three conventions also contribute to protecting biodiversity and to combating desertification. There are multiple potential synergies to be fostered among the three conventions. While each convention has its own set of instruments, requiring separate national action plans, there is still room to optimize the potential synergies through greater, knowledge sharing, project coordination and more-systematic linkages to national development planning processes.
The semi-arid regions continue to entail the most complex development challenges for policy makers. Covering over 40% of the earth’s land surface and housing one third of the world’s population, the map of the arid and semi-arid regions coincides in good measure with the map of world poverty, environmental degradation and economic, social and environmental unsustainability. The populations in the world’s arid and semi-arid lands continue to face grave threats from poor development compounded by climate variability and change. Despite being home to two billion people, these at-risk areas still gain a disproportionately small fraction of global attention in discussions and responses to climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.
Building on the successes of the first ICID, ICID 2010 will sharpen the focus on sustainable development of the world’s semi-arid regions in order to speed attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), reduce vulnerability, poverty and inequality, improve the quality of the natural resources, and promote sustainable development.