Welcome to a new kind of COP session

07 Nov 2016

Instead, COP7 is faced with a number of important interlocking decisions about implementing the FCTC. But making the right decisions will require patience, flexibility and vision throughout the week. The building blocks for major progress are all there, in the COP7 agenda, but delegates may find them difficult to identify, particularly if individual agenda items are treated as separate, unrelated issues.

FCTC implementation is a task that will take time, but the faster it happens, the fewer lives will be lost and less human suffering will occur. The COP needs to come up with a plan to accelerate implementation of the FCTC.

The first element of a successful plan is to know where you’re going. COP6 already took a major decision in that respect, by adopting the “30 percent by 2025” target – a 30-percent relative reduction in tobacco use prevalence by 2025, relative to 2010. The COP6 decision also called on Parties to adopt their own national target by 2015. We understand many Parties have in fact done so, but as of yet the COP has little information on how these national efforts are going– few Parties even report their target in their official reports.

The second element of a successful plan is identifying gaps – starting with what measures Parties have actually implemented and, if they haven’t implemented them, what is standing in the way. Here Parties already make an important effort by filling in a lengthy questionnaire – the official FCTC reporting instrument – every two years. But until there is a system to follow up with individual Parties, these reports will not be as useful as they could be. Recommendations from the expert group on reporting arrangements – in particular, the establishment of an Implementation Review Committee – provide a great basis for moving forward on this.

The third element is to prioritise technical assistance needs, i.e. draw up a global shopping list for work to address gaps in capacity or expertise that a large numbers of Parties face. This ‘shopping list’ should be a living document – possibly updated at each future COP session, and of course should not be seen as being exhaustive (i.e. some Parties will have particular needs that are also important).

The fourth element is to put this altogether with a clear mandate for the Convention Secretariat, and for the COP itself, to mobilise domestic and international resources for FCTC implementation. This is not just about funding COP or Secretariat business – though that too is iimportant. It is mostly about ensuring that individual Parties have the resources and the technical capacity they need to implement the FCTC at national level. Because the national level is, of course, where implementation primarily occurs.

All four elements can and should be put in place at COP7. Recommendations of the sustainable measures working group along with those from the expert group on reporting and proposals in the Secretariats report on fundraising efforts provide a good basis for this work.

Unlike at past COP sessions, the topic of resources needs to be properly addressed. There are at least three reasons why a resource mobilisation push by the Secretariat and the COP is more likely to be successful now than at any time in the past.

First, with the adoption of Article 6 guidelines at COP6, the COP now has an (almost) complete package of policy guidance on demand-side measures to reduce tobacco use.

Second, the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted last year, enshrine the FCTC as a “means of implementation target” for the overall global health goal. Indeed, the FCTC is one of the very few treaties mentioned by name in the SDGs. Official development agencies can no longer claim that tobacco control is somehow unrelated to development.

Third, tobacco taxation has also been recognised, in the Financing for Development process, as a key source of revenue for development. Cynics might see this as a backhanded way for rich countries to refuse development assistance for FCTC implementation. A more optimistic way of looking at this is that development assistance has an important role to play, particularly for low-income countries, as they build their tobacco control capacity.

That includes, of course, the capacity to tax tobacco at high rates. In the longer term, tobacco taxation should allow most countries to fund tobacco control efforts domestically – though there will likely always be a role for international co-operation and pooling of expertise.

COP7 has a chance to make a real difference. Not on paper, but it terms of lives saved. Capitalising on the promise of this COP session will require Parties to approach a number of agenda items holistically. It’s important not to get bogged down in vocabulary issues (e.g. needs assessment vs. impact assessment vs. implementation review vs. mechanisms of assistance vs. implementation action plan). It’s also important not to get bogged down in discussing issues where consensus appears unlikely: COP time is precious and needs to be spent wisely.

With that, best wishes for a new kind of COP session! 

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