In December 2022, 196 countries from around the world gathered in Montreal for COP15, the UN Biodiversity conference, to strike a deal to guide global action on nature through to 2030. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was hailed by some as the “Paris Agreement for nature,” a landmark deal needed to halt and reverse the rampant decline of biodiversity worldwide.
The GBF offers a watershed opportunity to restore nature and our relationship with the natural world around us. Whether the deal lives up to its transformational potential will depend on how individual countries, such as Canada, implement it domestically. As we’ve talked about before, thanks largely to the stewardship of Indigenous Peoples, Canada has the second-largest area of intact wilderness globally. This means we have a disproportionately large role to play in protecting global biodiversity.
There’s now just one year left until COP16, where Canada will have to demonstrate what progress we’ve made meeting these ambitions. So, how can Canada step up to meet this challenge? It starts with enshrining Canada’s nature targets into law.
Canada commits to an action plan for nature
The GBF sets out concrete measures to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and sets critical targets, including protecting 30 per cent of land and water by 2030. Under the GBF, every country is required to produce a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) that lays out how it intends to take action to meet the goals and targets of the new framework.
At a Nature Canada panel discussion at COP15, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault committed to developing such a “whole-of-government” domestic plan. This plan will be backed, he added, by an accountability act “enshrining our 2030 nature targets in law.” Minister Guilbeault later affirmed the government’s plan to enshrine biodiversity goals in law by early 2024. This commitment is key.
Canada has missed key biodiversity targets in the past
Canadian governments have consistently failed to meet previous international biodiversity commitments, including the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and the most recent Aichi targets, despite numerous strategies and action plans issued since that time.
The federal government has a major role to play in protecting biodiversity nationally, but the current regime is simply not working. The system is:
- Antiquated: most federal legislation on biodiversity was designed last century or before;
- Incoherent: the auditor general has criticized Canada for a lack of a cohesive approach to nature protection;
- Inefficient: with varying and sometimes conflicting mandates across multiple departments;
- Opaque: with no requirements for data sharing, decision-making transparency; and
- Non-inclusive: with no regular access for Indigenous governments, civil society or other stakeholders.
The challenges we face are systemic. There is nothing to suggest that the system will suddenly start performing better despite commitments from various governments over the past few decades. While Canada’s biodiversity-related legislative regime is complex, federal legislation is the right starting point for needed reforms.
Why Canada needs a nature and biodiversity accountability law
The credibility and success of Canada’s biodiversity strategy is directly dependent on the extent to which the federal government can be held to account for ensuring that the measures and strategies described in it meet Canada’s biodiversity goals and targets. Committing Canada’s nature targets to law is a critical first step in achieving this.
A nature and biodiversity accountability law would help drive the establishment of modern, cohesive, transparent, and accountable government action by:
- Creating a legal requirement to set biodiversity objectives tied to the GBF;
- Requiring regular reporting to Parliament on progress toward meeting these objective and challenges encountered in doing so; and
- Mandating the development of Biodiversity Action Plans that engage all affected interests.
Fostering greater cooperation with Indigenous, provincial and territorial governments
Because jurisdictional cooperation and transparency are both prerequisites to the success of efforts to halt and reverse nature loss, the federal strategy should clearly acknowledge the vital role Indigenous, provincial, and municipal efforts must play in meeting the targets.
In Canada, the provinces and territories have the most jurisdiction over biodiversity protection. The proposed law would foster better inter-governmental collaboration in achieving national biodiversity goal by encouraging and supporting contributions from provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments to achieving targets.
The new law would help put Indigenous interests and rights at the centre of conservation program design and delivery across Canada. From coast to coast to coast, Indigenous Peoples have protected and cared for the natural areas, plants and wildlife since time immemorial. Indigenous-led conservation is a tremendous opportunity to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and repair broken relationships. The legislation would recognize and enable Indigenous rights to govern and manage protected areas and culturally important and harvested species in traditional territories, and recover species at risk, in accordance with their knowledge and laws.
It’s time to move from ambition to action
Nature is central to our well-being. We depend on nature for our food, air, water, energy and raw materials. But nature is out of balance. Globally, species are declining faster than any time in human history. Nearly a year ago, Canada showed strong leadership as host of COP15 and in getting the GBF adopted. Now, Canada must continue that leadership by turning strong ambition into action. With COP16 just a year out, it’s time to deliver on our nature commitments.
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, while respecting Indigenous rights. A nature and biodiversity law would codify what biodiversity protection entails and put Canada on a course to achieving it.
Tell Prime Minister Trudeau: It’s time to deliver on Canada’s bold biodiversity ambitions. We need a strong nature law that helps restore nature and safeguards species and habitats before they’re endangered.
This blog was written with contributions from Zoryana Cherwick, of Ecojustice’s communications team.