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Canada's withdrawal from Convention to Combat Desertification 'regrettable': UN

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has responded to Canada's withdrawal, calling it "regrettable" and expressing the hope that Canada will "seize every opportunity" to act against drought.

In a statement on its website, the UNCCD said:

Yesterday, Canada notified the UN Secretary-General, the depositary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), of its decision to withdraw from the Convention. The UNCCD is the only legally binding instrument that addresses desertification/land degradation and drought.

Canada, a country that is frequently subjected to drought and where 60 percent of the cropland is in dry areas, is also a major actor in global efforts to address food security in developing countries. In addition to its annual contribution (CAD/USD290,644 in 2011) of about 3.127% of the current Convention's budget, the Government of Canada and Canadian civil society have played significant roles in moving the Convention to where it is today.

In 2007, Parties adopted the ten-year strategy to enhance the implementation of the Convention as a blue print for a more effective and efficient process grounded on a strong and cutting-edge science. As a result, the scientific conferences of UNCCD are academically independent. The next gathering of the scientific conference, in two weeks, is expected to deliver a major breakthrough by presenting the first ever cost-benefit analysis of desertification and sustainable land management.

Canada played crucial roles in both processes. Crucially, these processes have also moved the actions taken by parties to a result-based management approach where performance and impact are not only measured using indicators, but also assessed and monitored every two years.

In June 2012, world leaders at Rio +20 declared land degradation and drought as some of the most serious global challenges impeding the sustainable development of all nations, especially developing countries. They renewed and advanced the Convention's impetus by agreeing to strive to achieve a land-degradation neutral world, where land health is safeguarded and degraded land is restored. They also reaffirmed their resolve, in accordance with the UNCCD, to take coordinated action nationally, regionally and internationally, to monitor, globally, land degradation and restore degraded lands in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.

Furthermore, the recently concluded high-level meeting on national drought policy has laid the ground for a major shift from crisis management to drought preparedness, risk management and resilience building. These are good prospects to build upon in the global post 2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals.

The Convention is stronger than ever before, which makes Canada's decision to withdraw from the Convention all the more regrettable. The UNCCD and its institutions works with all stakeholders and will continue to do so to safeguard the key resource base for food, water and energy security, and to sharply reduce poverty and build the resilience of rural ecosystems to expected climatic shocks like droughts.

With the current momentum around soil nutrient conservation, land restoration and drought mitigation, and as governments, scientists, businesses and civil society around the world take proactive steps to move the Rio+20 outcomes forward, we believe Canada will seize every opportunity to support efforts to sustain the implementation of the Convention for the good of present and future generations.

A report by The Canadian Press quotes Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird as saying the UNCCD is a "talkfest" not in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers. The report also explains that Canada, having given notice of its withdrawal, will remain in the UNCCD for one more year.

The website of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) continues to link to that of the UNCCD.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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