The world is facing a biodiversity crisis with the sixth great extinction driven by human actions underway around the globe. Even in Canada, which still has more wild areas than many other countries, species continue to be endangered by factors like habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and other human-driven impacts like agricultural expansion and roads.
Canada was the first industrialized country to sign the Convention on Biodiversity, a United Nations treaty that sets out a number of targets for halting biodiversity loss, including rapidly expanding protected area systems. Now WCS Canada is leveraging our experience within Canada and our affiliation with WCS programs around the world to help strengthen the next set of CBD goals and targets – the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. To make signing onto the CDB meaningful, Canada must adopt policies and practices that will allow it to meet the targets.
Unfortunately, as research undertaken by WCS Canada demonstrates, Canada is currently not in a position to achieve these targets due to a lack of dedicated biodiversity protection legislation, the divide in jurisdiction over land and species between the federal and provincial governments and too few resources dedicated to conservation, issues our governments must address when they turn to achieving post-2020 goals. One of the biggest obstacles is our highly fragmented approach to addressing biodiversity and land use issues and lack of any legislation that makes conserving biodiversity a priority for land-use or species management.
Canada has a Biodiversity Strategy that was adopted after signing of the CDB. But the strategy is now out of date, incomplete and has never really received strong buy-in from governments. We need to quickly update this strategy and get serious about coordinated federal-provincial implementation to have any chance of reversing continued biodiversity loss, especially in the face of accelerating climate change. This is why much of WCS Canada’s work is aimed at identifying areas and species that need greater conservation attention as a way of focusing government efforts to conserve biodiversity and to maximize the impacts of conservation efforts, ranging from improving impact assessment processes and species at risk policies to identifying Key Biodiversity Areas that signify sites that require safeguarding.
Equally importantly, governments throughout Canada have to recognize the critical link between biodiversity protection and human health and wellbeing, a point that has been driven home by the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, we also need to recognize the pressing need for bigger picture planning approaches that take into account the cascading and amplifying effects of multiple developments on landscapes and wildlife. Regional and cumulative impact assessments and holistic land-use planning processes are our best tools for ensuring wild areas are not subject to death by a thousand cuts.
One key way the federal government is working to meet the objectives of the CBD and reverse biodiversity loss is by supporting the expansion of protected area networks on land, at sea and in inland waters.
As a member of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, the federal government is working with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments and authorities to expand protected areas to 30% of lands and waters by 2030. We, in turn, are working hard to inform these efforts by developing bold conservation plans for ecologically high value areas in places like British Columbia’s Muskwa-Kechika, Alberta’s Bighorn Wilderness and Southern Yukon. We are also working with a number of Indigenous communities on proposals for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) in both Yukon and Ontario.
We want to ensure that new protected areas are based on strong science and traditional knowledge and have the scale and connectivity needed to conserve natural systems and large natural forces like fire. We are also need to ensure that these areas will be resilient in the face of accelerating climate change or protect critical areas, such as climate refugia that can serve as a sort of “slow lane” for climate adaptation by wild species.
We believe our Key Biodiversity Areas program can also contribute to Canada successfully reaching protected area targets with areas that are particularly rich from a biodiversity perspective or that have other values, such as being uniquely large and undisturbed.
Canada is rich in wild areas not because we have made deliberate efforts to protect these areas, but simply due to our vast and often inaccessible landscape. We need to be much more proactive in protecting our globally important wild areas in response to an ever-growing human development footprint.