Bighorn sheep in the Canadian Rockies., Richard Paksi (Canva Pro)
Bighorn sheep in the Canadian Rockies. © Richard Paksi (Canva Pro)

Next steps for Canada: Developing a plan to end biodiversity loss


Justina Ray
President & Senior Scientist





Helping steer 196 countries to arrive at a consensus agreement for “halting and reversing biodiversity loss” was no small accomplishment for Canadian representatives at the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) negotiations in Montreal this past December.

But now the even more challenging work of implementing the agreement has begun with the official launch on May 15th of Canada’s consultation on a 2030 Biodiversity Strategy for Canada.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) that was agreed to in Montreal replaces the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (including Aichi Biodiversity Targets) adopted in 2010. The GBF is a new plan for achieving the CBD’s 2050 vision of “People Living in Harmony with Nature.”

In a somewhat similar vein to the Paris Agreement for climate which seeks to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the GBF has a mission to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. But the agreement also addresses sustainable use of biodiversity along with access and benefit sharing for genetic resources to round out the three objectives of the CBD agreed to in 1992.

Given the level of ambition in the GBF and prevailing negative biodiversity trends, it is not surprising that it is a complex document with 23 inter-related targets meant to advance progress on achieving its four goals. (We’ve put together an explainer piece that looks at some of the actions Canada should consider for addressing each goal and target).

This complexity reflects the importance of addressing multiple direct threats to biodiversity while at the same time meeting the needs of people and strengthening the necessary tools and governance processes for effective implementation. On implementation, the agreement has taken an important step in placing emphasis on concrete and measurable targets along with a monitoring framework that will hopefully result in much more meaningful progress than the largely underachieved Aichi Targets.

The GBF also embraces the understanding that the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply conjoined while acknowledging that the health of wild species and ecosystems everywhere in the world is fundamental to human well-being. Importantly, throughout the framework text there are multiple acknowledgements of the need to respect and protect the knowledge and rights of Indigenous peoples.

Signatory countries are expected to immediately get to work on developing National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans that will help determine how the agreement is acted on at national, regional and local levels. Canada has a big job to do here. Our current biodiversity strategy is almost 30 years old and we still rely on a largely reactive and uncoordinated set of laws and policies more focused on things like resource management and hunting and fishing rules for most biodiversity protection efforts.

Faced with implementing such an ambitious and complex framework, an understandable reaction would be to select a subset of GBF targets on which to focus – perhaps, for example, those that are easiest to measure (like Target 3 aimed at achieving 30% protection of lands and waters) or those that are perceived to be most “achievable.” However, the GBF is structured around the idea that action is required on all targets collectively to reach its 2050 vision, and the targets themselves are intentionally entwined. So instead of addressing targets one-by-one or cherry-picking certain targets, Canada needs to step back and consider how to bring about a transformative change in our approach and policies to nature that is holistic and coordinated.

Developing a national strategy is an important opportunity for Canada, as well as the provinces and territories, to embrace a “whole of government” and “whole of society” approach to protecting and restoring biodiversity. Right now, it is too often left to the single ministry responsible for environment in each jurisdiction to manage and advocate for nature while other more powerful agencies take actions that continue to perpetuate the loss of biodiversity. The result is a highly fragmented and ineffective response to a growing crisis that is no match for the growing impacts of cumulative pressures on ecosystems – the combination of everything from climate change and industrial agriculture to urban sprawl and resource development.

An effective national biodiversity strategy will require a much more coherent response where all ministries and agencies are “singing from the same song sheet” when it comes to achieving GBF targets . It is good that the federal Environment and Climate Change Ministry (which is leading development of this strategy) has a mandate that directly aligns with the goal of the GBF -- halting and reversing biodiversity loss – but that objective is going to have to be much more widely embraced across both federal and provincial/territorial governments to ensure success.

Also needed will be a much broader recognition across all governments and society of the value and importance of protecting biodiversity, whether it is protecting the genetic diversity of food sources or ensuring healthy ecosystems can contribute to climate resilience for the health of communities.

Just as our efforts to address climate change have too often lost momentum after signing agreements, our efforts to address biodiversity loss have followed an ambling path while lacking any real sense of urgency. That, hopefully, has changed with a much greater sense of the scale of the problem and its implications gripping the talks in Montreal and leading to an ambitious and farsighted agreement. Much greater recognition of the importance of equity and fairness in how global resources are used is also a stepping stone for more enduring progress on issues like addressing the continued degradation of the world’s wild places, as is much greater respect for the leadership of Indigenous communities in natural areas stewardship as a fundamental component of Reconciliation.

WCS Canada has been busy laying the groundwork for action on achieving the CBD’s vision through efforts like our Key Biodiversity Areas program and our work to draw attention to the critical natural values of places like the globally-significant Hudson Bay Lowland in Ontario and the boreal mountain environment of northern BC and Yukon. We have also dived deep into what it will take to better protect species like wolverines, caribou, migratory birds, lake sturgeon and whales, while working directly with Indigenous governments and organizations to advance Indigenous-led conservation and Guardians.

Halting and reversing biodiversity loss is not going to be an easy or straightforward task. But just as with climate, it is vital that we reset our relationship with the natural world before it is too late.

The door to a better biodiversity future is now open

The door to a better biodiversity future is now open

Convention on Biological Diversity negotiations produce a solid deal that lays the groundwork for more ambitious efforts to address the biodiversity crisis in Canada and around the world.
Justina Ray