Letter: Canada’s re-joining of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

Publication Date: 
June 7, 2016
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Subject: Canada’s re-joining of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification  

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

As representatives of Canadian environmental, faith, and international development organizations, we are writing to call on your government to re-join the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification on June 17, 2016.  

Canada is currently the only country in the world that is not party to this important convention, despite having played an important leadership role within the convention in the past, for example, by hosting its fifth Conference of the Parties in 2001 and often providing an important bridging role between developed and developing countries. Re-joining the convention would allow Canada to once again take a seat at the table and make sure that the UNCCD and its institutions promote, protect and respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, migrants, children, and people in vulnerable situations, as well as promoting gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity. By re-joining the convention, the Canadian government would renew its leadership and further demonstrate its commitment to re-engaging Canada as an important partner in the international community and global governance.

As you know, the Parliament of Canada ratified this convention in 1995, but on March 28, 2013, Canada’s previous government unilaterally withdrew from the convention by notification from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, based on a cabinet decision alone. Hence, the reverse process, an official notification from the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the United Nations Secretary General, the depository of the convention, would suffice to re-join the convention.

Canada could not find a better moment to rejoin the Convention, since many of the objectives of the convention are directly linked to efforts under way under other international processes which Canada is a vital part of.

The availability of healthy, biodiverse and productive land and ecosystems is a prerequisite for food security, sustainable livelihoods, and economic development for the communities who live in and depend on deserts and regions vulnerable to desertification. Recently, all countries have expressed their international engagement to combat desertification and land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in the context of the new agenda on sustainable development, in particular the commitment for achieving a land-degradation-neutral world by 2030 (SDG 15, target 15.3).

Fighting land degradation and desertification will also help address issues of climate change. The recently-adopted Paris Agreement recognizes “safeguarding food security” as a priority in adapting to climate change, for example when increasing temperatures result in exacerbating drought. Further, combating desertification, and other good land management practices help capture the substantial mitigation potential of the land sector and can also help to build resilience to climate impacts, by providing protection against droughts, flooding, landslides and erosion. The Paris Agreement acknowledges this when it highlights the importance of conserving and enhancing carbon sinks, which in turn, implies the whole range of activities to combat desertification.  

Importantly, the work of this convention not only focuses on developing countries. In its submission to the UNCCD from 2006, Canada identified large areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba as well as in the interior of British Columbia (accounting for 60% of Canada’s crop land and 80% of its rangeland) as regions affected by drought and vulnerable to desertification. Per the projections of the IPCC, these droughts are predicted to increase in frequency and severity as a result of climate change, increasing Canada’s economic and social vulnerability to these events.  

The time is right for Canada to re-join the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. June 17 is the World Day to Combat Desertification. This year, the World Day will see advocacy for cooperation to restore and rehabilitate degraded land and contribute towards achieving the overall Sustainable Development Goals. Events will be organized around the globe and statements will be issued by the United Nations Secretary General and by governments around the world to celebrate the day. Media attention will be high, including op-eds, for example by officials of the convention, in major international newspapers marking the day. This would be the perfect moment for Canada to announce its renewed commitment to combatting desertification.  

Signed, 

ADRA Canada  
Analynn Bruce, Development Program Director

Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA)  
Alain Brunel, Conseiller climat énergie

Canadian Council for International Co-operation  
Julia Sanchez, President-CEO

Canadian Foodgrains Bank  
Jim Cornelius, Executive Director

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace  
Lyn Adamson, Co-Chair

Citizens for Public Justice  
Joe Gunn, Executive Director

Climate Action Network Canada - Réseau action climat Canada  
Catherine Abreu, Executive Director

ClimateFast  
Joe Davidson

Council of Canadians  
Brent Patterson, Political Director

David Suzuki Foundation  
Peter Robinson, Chief Executive Officer

Environmental Defence Canada  
Tim Gray, Executive Director

Équiterre  
Steven Guilbeault, Cofounder and Senior Director

For Our Grandchildren  
Peter Jones, Chairperson

Friends of the Earth Canada  
Beatrice Olivastri, CEO

Green 13  
Rita Bijons, Co-Chair 

Greenpeace Canada  
Joanna Kerr, Executive Director

International Institute for Sustainable Development  
Scott Vaughan, President and CEO

Manitoba Wildlands
Gaile Whelan Enns, Director

Parvati.org  
Darcy Belanger, Director of Strategic Initiatives

REAP-Canada  
Roger Samson, Executive Director

Saskatchewan Environmental Society  
Ann Coxworth, Board member

Sierra Club Canada Foundation  
Diane Beckett, Interim Executive Director

The Climate Reality Project Canada  
Audrey Dépault, National Manager

The United Church of Canada  
Michael Blair, Executive Minister, Church in Mission Unit

USC Canada  
Faris Ahmed, Director, Policy and Campaigns

World Federalist Movement – Canada  
Fergus Watt, Executive Director

Zero Carbon Ontario  
Patricia Warwick  

Distribution:  
- The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
- The Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs
- The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minster of Environment and Climate Change
- The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development
- Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
- Pam Goldsmith-Jones, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
- Karina Gould, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development
- The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Interim Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
- The Honourable Tom Mulcair, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada
- Rhéal Fortin, Leader of the Bloc Québécois
- Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada
- The Honourable Ed Fast, CPC critic for environment
- Nathan Cullen, NDP critic for environment and climate change
- Deepak Obhrai, CPC critic for international development  
- Robert Aubin, NDP critic for international development