As Canada tries to convince the U.S. it is a responsible environmental steward, it walks away from UN environmental convention.
By Tim Harper National Affairs Columnist Thu., March 28, 2013
Once again Canada stands alone.
In 2011, the Conservative government became the first to formally withdraw from the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol on the environment.
Now, we have become the first nation to withdraw from the UN’s convention on drought, a program primarily aiming to help East Africa and the Sahel region.
Another 193 nations and the European Union believe this UN program has value in trying to prevent drought and its fallout, which includes malnourishment, child malnutrition and problems with cross-border refugees.
Our government has neither the time, nor the money, nor the interest, in dealing with such issues.
“It’s inexplicable,’’ says Oxfam executive director Robert Fox.
The move, which apparently was never to be announced, is couched in the disdainful language Stephen Harper and his government use in describing the United Nations, suggesting the Canadian contribution was paying for bureaucratic salaries and meetings, or what Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called “a talkfest.’’
The prime minister said only 18 per cent of the money Canada contributes to the convention is used on programming.
But these high-minded declarations about protecting the Canadian taxpayer ring false when one considers the Canadian contribution was a mere $350,000 per year.
To save some pocket change the government has again embarrassed itself with its latest foray into international isolationism.
And this time there is a direct link to important domestic policy.
In making this decision — ferreted out by The Canadian Press — the Conservatives have given the back of their hand to their own base of support in Alberta.
At a time when a parade of federal ministers (including Baird) and provincial premiers, including Alberta Premier Alison Redford, have been invading Washington to tout this country’s supposed “green credentials” in a bid to win presidential approval for the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision like this simply blows up all that work.
Walking away from a convention that is dealing with a problem that has been at least accelerated by climate change reinforces the world’s view, including a widely-held view in Washington, that the Harper government is all about resource development and exports, barely paying lip service to climate change.
It is consistent with this government’s view of the United Nations.
Harper snubbed the General Assembly last year, his government has never accepted a single criticism from the international body and has all but chased UN rapporteurs out of the country.
This UN-phobia may have all been foreshadowed in a speech Harper delivered at the Conservative convention shortly after winning his 2011 majority but it is an abrupt turnaround from comments Harper made in Africa a mere five months ago.
Then, he committed $20 million in Canadian aid to the Sahel while visiting a UN centre in Dakar.
“Across the Sahel region of Africa, there are many problems, including millions of men, women and children who are suffering because they do not have enough to eat,” Harper said. “”I know I speak for all Canadians when I tell you we will not abandon you. The challenges we’re talking about today go well beyond the food shortage, but obviously for many people this is the most critical challenge.”
A day before this news broke, Julian Fantino, the minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, promised, in a Globe and Mail op-ed, that Canada would remain “a compassionate neighbour. We are known to lend a helping hand to those suffering the ill effects of cyclical drought, weak governance or an earthquake.’’
Friday, his department’s website was still touting the convention as one of Canada’s “environmental sustainable” priorities.”
In the Sahel, an estimated 18.7 million people are malnourished, including a million children at the risk of severe malnutrition.
The Canadian move comes on the eve of an April 9 UN meeting bringing scientists, governments and civil society organizations together in Bonn. It is billed as the first ever cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought.
We’re not coming.
Three days ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an additional $51 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of the Sahel, citing a “complex crisis of drought, flooding, failed harvests, and disrupted livelihoods.’’
Baird pulled us out of the UN program trying to prevent it.
Wonder how green we look to Kerry now?