Desertification Too Important For Canada To Ignore - Suzuki

Photo Credit: Kevin Pluc

The federal government recently 
pulled out of an important global 
treaty: the UN Convention to 
Combat Desertification. It’s aimed 
at fighting drought, a problem that 
affects almost 30 per cent of Earth’s 
land surface and threatens the 
well-being of more than a billion 
people worldwide, including in our 
Prairie provinces. 

Every year, the cumulative effects of overgrazing, over-cultivation, deforestation, 
poor irrigation and increasing extreme weather events – including those that 
cause drought – permanently degrade close to 10 million hectares of land. 
This has led to a creeping loss of places where food can easily be grown. 
desert-like “dead zones” that can no longer support human life in 
places such as sub-Saharan Africa. No region is immune. Close to 
three-quarters of North America’s dry lands, including parts of the 
Prairies, are vulnerable to drought. And sudden loss of agricultural 
productivity can be devastating to farm communities across Canada. 

Under the UN convention, close to 195 countries are working to 
improve living conditions for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, 
to maintain and restore land and soil productivity and to reduce the effects 
of drought, including food and water shortages, malnutrition, mass 
migrations, increased political instability and war. 

Many aid and development experts believe this international agreement is 
critical to advancing global economic, political and food security. Canada 
is the only country to walk away.

The convention is a rare example of people from around the world coming 
together to address the root causes of environmental and social crises. It 
was passed shortly after drought-related crop failures and resulting 
malnutrition, starvation and mass migrations ravaged the Horn of Africa in 
the 1980s in places like Somalia and Ethiopia.

Canadians opened their hearts and wallets to these horrific droughts. 
Our government matched public efforts with leadership in helping to 
negotiate the Desertification Convention, signed in 1994. Canadians 
even led its decision-making body for many years. Through our 
partnership in the convention, previous federal governments also 
direct aid to drought-stricken nations. 

Canada’s past leadership is no surprise. Drought is a serious problem 
for our farmers. We are, in fact, officially designated as an “affected 
nation” under the convention, given that 60 per cent of our croplands 
and 80 per cent of our rangelands are in dry-land areas. Earlier droughts, 
such as the dust bowls of the Dirty ’30s, triggered severe erosion and 
dust storms, and resulted in tragic consequences, including massive 
unemployment and abandonment of farms across the Prairies. 

The current government even recognizes our social and economic 
vulnerability to droughts. A 2008 study by Environment Canada and 
the Saskatchewan Research Council found that a severe dry period 
in 2001-02 resulted in $3.6 billion in losses 
to farmers from reduced agricultural production in Canada. The study 
warned that climate change is likely to cause more droughts and 
associated economic risks. As one of the highest per capita greenhouse 
gas emitters in the world, we’re contributing to worldwide drought. 

Canada was once renowned internationally for progressive ideals and 
values that help improve the world – from the creation and deployment 
of peacekeepers by the government of Lester B. Pearson to our support 
for a global ban on anti-personnel land mines with the passing of the 
Ottawa Treaty (also known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention). 
The world community recognized many of our leaders for these 
efforts with Nobel Peace Prizes and nominations.

By abandoning the UN Desertification Convention, as well as other 
important international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, we’re 
sending the wrong message to the world community. We’re saying 
that exporting resources like oil and timber matter more to us than 
contributing to dialogue and partnership on global issues. That Canada 
snuck out of the agreement without even notifying the UN secretariat, 
just to save about $300,000 a year, makes matters worse. 

Nature doesn’t heed human borders, and global problems like drought 
and desertification require global solutions. Canada was wrong to pull 
out of the UN Desertification Convention. Doing so further isolates us 
on the world stage as a 
partner in addressing environmental issues and tarnishes our hard-
earned reputation when it comes to making the world a better place to live. 

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario 
and Northern Canada Director General Faisal Moola.

For more insights from David Suzuki, please read Everything Under the 
Sun (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation), by David Suzuki and 
Ian Hanington, now available in bookstores and online
Support the David Suzuki Foundation! Our dedicated team 
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Please also read: UN Calls Canada's Pullout From Drought Convention "Regrettable." 



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