Thursday, March 28, 2013

Canada pulls out of UN Convention to prevent droughts

The UN body has a research committee dedicated to finding ways to stop the spread of droughts that lay waste to farmland across the planet, particularly Africa.

Scientists, governments and civil society organizations are headed to Bonn next month “to carry out the first ever comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought,” says a notice from the United Nations Environment Program.
“Also, for the very first time, governments will provide concrete data on the status of poverty and of land cover in the areas affected by desertification in their countries.” (from "Canada pulls out of UN convention to fight droughts" by Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, March 27, 2013, below)
The question of Canada's participation in this UN Convention to Combat Desertification, while costing a few hundred thousand dollars is not only framed under "environmental protection". It is also about the rise of terrorism in the Sahel, and the increased threat of poverty at the heart of the global need for food and survival of individuals...and the fact that everyone on the planet is interconnected to the degree that the rising incidence of droughts is a common human issue. Also, Canadian representation has been and would continue to be an indication of Canada's interest in participating both as recipient of the best research and as co-provider of additional research from our own scientists on the matter of droughts, and their potential impact, and on new and innovative methods of farming as the size and number of droughts grows.
There is a degree of isolationism in the Canadian government's decision to withdraw, and on the issue of "deserification" the government knows it can rely on the big yawn of the Canadian people both on issues of international development and on a bureaucratic or scientific matter like desertification...a word that would spark interest only among the scientists and thinkers interested in the issue. This government ideologically, sits to the right of most humanitarian issues and needs, believing as it does, that the free market is the answer to most issues facing governments. Unfortunately, the UN does not rank very high on the government's totem pole of agencies it wishes to support. And there is certainly evidence of the UN's ineffectual nature when we look at the vaccuum of international co-operation in such headline conflicts as Syria where some 80,000 are now reported to have died in that civil war.
The Canadian government is also "science-averse" resisting most attempts of science to provide data on which to base government decisions. The government's replacement of what might be called the ivory tower of science has been the government's 'ivory tower of political survivorship'....polite words for their goal of maintain their hold on power for the longest period possible.
The country's best interests, and the planet's best interests must not get in the way of the achievment of that over-riding goal...holding onto power.
This is a narrow, inward-looking, selfishly motivated, group of "know-nothings" (to borrow Pierre Trudeau's word describing MP's one hundred miles out of Ottawa) led by an extremely heavy-handed and controlling Prime Minister who is completely in charge of every syllable the government utters, including the muzzling of his own backbenchers on matters of social conservative files like therapeutic abortions.
And the propaganda line to cover all government decisions has really two prongs:
1) the government is committed to prosperity, growth and new jobs and
2) the Prime Minister is the only one permitted to generate and express government thought, and all statements must be cleared through the PMO.
From this government, don't look for international collaboration, for research-based decisions, or for Canadian support for causes from which the government cannot squeeze political advantage in terms of votes. "Desertification" and the prevention of droughts through collaborative research simply does not register on this government's radar.

Canada pulls out of UN convention to fight droughts

The Harper government is pulling out of a United Nations convention that fights droughts in Africa and elsewhere, which would make Canada the only country in the world outside the agreement.

By Mike blanchfield, The Canadian Press in Toronto Star, March 27, 2013
The Conservative government is pulling out of a United Nations convention that fights droughts in Africa and elsewhere, which would make Canada the only country in the world outside the agreement.

The federal cabinet last week ordered the unannounced withdrawal on the recommendation of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, ahead of a major scientific meeting on the convention next month in Germany.
The abrupt move caught the UN secretariat that administers the convention off guard, which was informed through a telephone call from The Canadian Press.
The cabinet order “authorizes the Minister of Foreign Affairs to take the actions necessary to withdraw, on behalf of Canada, from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in those Countries Experiencing Severe Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa.”
Canada signed the convention in 1994 and ratified it in 1995. Every UN nation —194 countries and the European Union — is currently a party to it.
Baird’s office referred questions to the Canadian International Development Agency, which rejected a request for an interview.
A spokesman for International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said in an emailed statement that “membership in this convention was costly for Canadians and showed few results, if any for the environment.”
Fantino’s office refused to answer follow-up questions, including how much money was being saved by the move, and when Canada planned to notify the UN of its decision.
Government documents show Canada provided a $283,000 grant to support the convention from 2010 to 2012.
The UN body has a research committee dedicated to finding ways to stop the spread of droughts that lay waste to farmland across the planet, particularly Africa.
Scientists, governments and civil society organizations are headed to Bonn next month “to carry out the first ever comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought,” says a notice from the United Nations Environment Program.
“Also, for the very first time, governments will provide concrete data on the status of poverty and of land cover in the areas affected by desertification in their countries.”
The issue of encroaching deserts has become urgent because of renewed droughts that have plunged millions into poverty in Africa’s Sahel belt last year and in East Africa the year before.
The Bonn-based secretariat for the UN body said no Canadian official had contacted them about the withdrawal.
“We cannot comment on something that is not communicated officially to the secretariat or to the United Nations,” said a spokeswoman, who added she planned to contact the secretariat’s legal office for advice.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the decision “shows ... that the government is clearly outside of what is international norms here. We’re increasing our isolation by doing this.”
He also questioned why the government didn’t announce the decision.
“The questions are Why are we doing this? Who is behind this? And it would appear they just got caught doing this. They didn’t make an announcement about this,” said Dewar.
“Was this something they were hoping no one would notice?”
The decision could stoke more criticism of the Harper government’s record on the environment.
Canada, along with Japan, Russia and New Zealand, joined the United States in opting out of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
The government has also faced widespread criticism for muzzling scientists, leading to a recent complaint to the federal information commissioner to look into the matter.
Its decision to cut the funding for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy has also sparked an outcry.
Baird has suggested the closure of the think-tank was because the government did not want to pay for advice that did not fit with the government’s general direction.
The roundtable had warned repeatedly that the federal government would not be able to meet its targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions without putting a price on carbon, an idea the Conservatives vehemently oppose.
“Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit,” says the secretariat’s description of the 1994 convention.
It calls the convention the “sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.”
Canada has also been an active participant in the convention, and has said it was in the country’s national interest to be a party to it.
The Canadian International Development Agency — soon to be merged into the Foreign Affairs Department — has administered Canada’s participation and affirmed that fact in an undated, 40-page report, titled “Canada’s First Report on Domestic Activities Relevant to the United Nations Convention to Combat Diversification.”
The report says that Canada is an “Affected Party” under the treaty because of “the existence of drylands in the Canadian prairies.”
The convention, the report states, requires Canada “to ensure that desertification issues are integrated into its national sustainable development plans and policies.”
The convention also obliges its parties “to report on activities undertaken to address the problem,” says the CIDA report.
“Our status as Party to this Convention is in our national interest because this Convention (and related issues like biodiversity), and the global thinking which is emanating from it, will benefit our own vision and approach of how we address our own, and the world’s drylands,” the report concluded.
In a May 2008 speech to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, Canada’s representative said in a prepared text that “Canada has been a strong supporter” of the convention.
The text said that “Canada applauds” the efforts of the convention’s executive secretary “to elevate the profile of desertification as a key environment and development issue, and will continue to support activities to combat desertification, land degradation and drought” in keeping with the goals of the convention.

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