Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Desertification group laments losing Canada

'Regrettable' decision makes it only country not in the UN body

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OTTAWA -- The United Nations said Friday it is "regrettable" Canada will withdraw from a UN convention that fights the spread of droughts.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada was withdrawing from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification because the program has proven too bureaucratic and not worth the $350,000 contributed each year.

The decision would make Canada the only country in the world not part of the convention.

"The convention is stronger than ever before, which makes Canada's decision to withdraw from the convention all the more regrettable," the Bonn-based secretariat for the convention said in a statement Friday.

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 decision has led to widespread criticism of the Harper government from opposition parties, non-governmental aid agencies, civil-society groups and former Canadian diplomats, including at least one former UN ambassador.

The government's decision also caught the UN secretariat that administers the convention off guard -- a spokesman was informed through a telephone call from The Canadian Press on Wednesday.

The government has said it served formal notification to the Bonn-based secretariat and the United Nations Secretary General on Monday. On Tuesday, the government posted the order on an obscure website and it was found by The Canadian Press. The government did not issue a news release about its withdrawal plans.

In Friday's statement, the secretariat, also known as the UNCCD, said Canada formally notified it Thursday.

"Canada, a country that is frequently subjected to drought and where 60 per cent of the cropland is in dry areas, is also a major actor in global efforts to address food security in developing countries," the UNCCD said.

The UN body said Canada's annual contribution of $291,000 -- less than the $350,000 the government says it was paying -- accounted for 3.1 per cent of its budget.

It said the Canadian government and "Canadian civil society have played significant roles in moving the convention to where it is today."

In 2007, Canada, along with the other 194 countries that are party to the convention, agreed to a 10-year strategy to "enhance the implementation of the convention as a blueprint for a more effective and efficient process grounded on strong and cutting-edge science," Friday's statement said.

The convention's meetings, set to begin April 9, would have forced Canada to confront scientific analysis on the effects of climate change, droughts and encroaching deserts. The Harper government has been vilified an as outlier on climate-change policy in past international meetings.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 A21

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