June 5 - World Environment Day: Conservationists call for an ambitious 50% Protection Target for Canada by 2030 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

 

June 5 - World Environment Day: Conservationists call for an ambitious 50% Protection Target for Canada by 2030 

 

Scaling-up Ecosystem Protection is a Game-Changer for the Climate and Biodiversity Crisis, say Conservationists.

 

Today on World Environment Day (June 5), conservationists with the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance (EEA) are calling on the Canadian government to support an ambitious 50% protection target of all land and freshwater areas by 2030 for Canada and the world, including setting science-based targets for all ecosystem types. In November of 2020, nations around the world will gather in Beijing, China to negotiate a new international protected areas target (which is currently 17% by 2020) for Earth’s land area at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s conference.
 
The Endangered Ecosystems Alliance is also calling on the federal government to mandate that the provinces - who are responsible for creating most protected areas in Canada – commit to the national targets, including both the near-term target of 17% by 2020 and a more ambitious 50% by 2030 target, and develop ecosystem-based action plans to achieve them. 
 
“The large-scale protection and restoration of native ecosystems across Canada and the world is a vital game-changer that would greatly help to stem the two greatest crises of our time – climate change and biodiversity loss.  All countries including Canada need to quickly scale-up the protection and rewilding of vast areas of all native ecosystems with more ambitious targets and the requisite policies to achieve them. Of all things that we can do to benefit humanity and the world right now, major ecosystem protection and restoration are about the most important of all,” stated Ken Wu, executive director of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance.

“We need a World War 2-scale mobilization to avert the climate and biodiversity crises, and the expanded protection of native ecosystems is a fundamental part of this effort. While 50% protection may sound like a lot, it could be done by adding 3% protection each year internationally until 2030, or about 3.5% in Canada, as we are running behind,” stated Wu.
 
Canada currently has adopted a target of 17% protection of its land area by 2020 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s protocol. Currently less than 11% of Canada’s land area is protected, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will achieve the target due to government heel-dragging at different levels. Globally nations as a whole look to be on schedule to achieve the 17% target. 
 
Importantly, the federal government has not mandated that the provinces adopt the targets, nor mandated that targets be set for all ecosystem types – resulting in most new protected areas being established in the Arctic and subarctic regions (certainly positive steps forward) in the territories, but with relatively few new protected areas in the more diverse and biologically richer southern ecosystems (deciduous and mixed forests, grasslands, old-growth temperate rainforests, etc) in the provinces that are of greater interest for timber companies, agriculture, or human settlement. 
 
“Without mandating that the provinces commit to and develop action plans to meeting our international protected areas commitments, Canada is bound to miss its targets, since the provinces are vital for protected areas expansion. And without mandating that targets must be set for all ecosystem-types, even if we reach our overall targets we’ll still fail to adequately protect our native biodiversity and to avert the extinction crisis,” Wu stated.  “Politically, one of the most vital things that must happen is that the provinces must recognize and support Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, such as Tribal Parks, if we’re going to quickly scale-up the protection of ecosystems across Canada.”
 
Scientists have now stated that we are entering the greatest extinction crisis in human history due to climate change, which will exacerbate the crisis caused by habitat destruction and invasive species, threatening 1 million species with extinction this century:
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/06/extinction-report-1-million-animals-plants-risk-uns-ipebs-says/1115842001 
 
Scientists and conservationists are increasingly pushing for the large-scale protection and restoration of native ecosystems as a necessary means to abate the climate crisis to buy time for a full transition to a clean energy economy:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/03/natural-world-climate-catastrophe-rewilding 
 
“In terms of a climate solution, the greatest carbon capture devices that exist are called ‘trees’ and ‘nature’. Protecting large areas of forests, grasslands and wetlands would be a huge game-changer to draw-down vast amounts of atmospheric carbon that may give us enough time to transition our entire society into a low-carbon economy,” Wu continued.
 
More Background Info
 
Besides greatly mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity, the expansion of our protected areas would bring many other benefits, including:
-      Bolstering the economy in numerous ways, including supporting tourism and recreation, providing non-timber forest products (wild mushrooms, berries, maple syrup, etc.), enhancing real estate values near protected green spaces, and attracting a skilled labour force that chooses to locate in areas with a higher environmental quality of life.
-      Supporting First Nations cultures, which evolved in native ecosystems over millenia. For example, old-growth western redcedar is vital in the coastal forests of British Columbia for many First Nations to make traditional canoes, long houses, totem poles, and masks.
-      Providing vital ecosystem services, such as supporting clean drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat, flood control, regional climate regulation, wild foods, and medicines. 
-      Enhancing the quality of life for people with recreational opportunities, scenery, and ecosystem services, with resulting major psychological and physical health benefits.
 

“Most importantly, native ecosystems and species have their own intrinsic value or inherent worth - they exist for their own sake just like humans do. At its core is justification enough to for us to have to ensure their survival by greatly increasing protected areas in all ecosystem types. To do so would be the greatest expansion of our ethics to encompass the greatest breadth of life and living systems – sustaining the world in its most complete state”, said Wu.

Some federal and provincial policies that are needed in order to expand protected areas include:

-      Designating legislated protected areas using science-based targets for all ecosystem-types, from grasslands to coniferous forests (including old-growth forests), from Arctic tundra to deciduous forests, from freshwater to marine ecosystems.
-      Implementation of land acquisition funds to purchase and protect private lands of high ecological value.
-      Recognition and support for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, such as Tribal Parks.
-      Conservation financing support to assist with the sustainable economic development and diversification of First Nations communities tied to the implementation of new Indigenous Protected Areas and land use plans.