Capturing Canada’s watershed moment to save nature

Photo by Liron Gertsman
Program area – Nature Status: In progress
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Nature is incredible – remember the wonder and excitement of discovering something new in nature as a child? As people in Canada, we have the privilege of enjoying a stunning array of beautiful landscapes and incredible wildlife. Nature isn’t only beautiful – it’s critical to our survival. All people in Canada, particularly Indigenous Peoples, depend on the well-being of the natural world to support our cultures, health, and economy. We rely on healthy ecosystems to provide us with the air we breathe and the food we eat. Keeping nature intact is our best bet for the survival of the world we hope to pass on to future generations.

But around the world, nature loss is accelerating at an alarming rate. Around a million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction - more than ever before in human history. In Canada, 1,231 species are listed under the Species at Risk Act, and populations of at-risk species have declined a staggering 59 per cent since 1970.

The news isn’t all bad. Nature is resilient! If we do our part to fight to protect nature, it will do its part to protect our well-being and the well-being of the whole natural world. Natural climate solutions offer some of our best options in the fight against climate change.

This December, all eyes will be on Canada as COP15, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, takes place in Montreal. This will be the largest biodiversity conference in a decade with 196 countries hoping to strike a deal on protecting and restoring nature.

With one-tenth of the world’s forests, one-quarter of the world’s wetlands, and more freshwater lakes than all other nations combined, Canada has an indispensable role to play in protecting global biodiversity. COP15 is our opportunity to step up and be a leader in the global fight to halt and reverse nature loss. Ecojustice is sending a delegation to COP15 to be your eyes and ears on the ground.

Canada has committed to protecting 25 per cent of lands and oceans by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030. To ensure Canada hits its targets, we need laws that hold governments to account for meeting them and that respect the rights of Indigenous communities.

The Canadian government has acknowledged the urgency of the nature crisis we are currently facing. Last year, the federal government announced its commitment to protect 25 per cent of lands and oceans by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030.

The federal government has set ambitious biodiversity targets in the past but has consistently failed at actual implementation. Canada did not meet its international commitments under the 1992 Convention for Biological Diversity and fell short on its targets under the 2010 Aichi Protocol to the Convention. In fact, no other country has fully met the Aichi biodiversity targets.

When goals are set and missed, or goalposts continually shift, it creates an understandable cynicism about their value. But if designed well, targets can be transformative. This can only happen if ambitious targets are matched with regulatory change, better policy, and prioritized investment in the actions needed to realize them.

If Canada is serious about its commitment to biodiversity, it’s time to create national legislation that sets targets for protection with a clear timeline and accountability. A nature and biodiversity law would codify what biodiversity protection entails and put Canada on a course to achieving it.

Canada’s ambitions to protect nature can only succeed if the provinces and territories do their part. Given that the provinces and territories have the most jurisdiction over biodiversity protection, any federal law must recognize the huge role provinces have to play in protecting at-risk species and critical habitat.

Canada’s ambitions to protect nature can only succeed if the provinces and territories do their part. Given that the provinces and territories have the most jurisdiction over biodiversity protection, any federal law must recognize the huge role provinces have to play in protecting at-risk species and critical habitat.

While it is important that Canada’s ambitious new conservation targets are legally enforceable, it is equally important that Canada’s action plan respects Indigenous rights to avoid repeating the harms of the past. As Canada builds its action plan to tackle biodiversity loss, it is critical this process involves First Nations, Inuit, and Metis, using both western and traditional ecological knowledge to find the best solutions to protect nature.

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