Taking Action Today: Establishing Protected Areas for Canada’s Future

Report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Submitted by Deborah Schulte, Chair, Canada House of Commons, March 2017

Specific mention of Nature Needs Half on page 27: “Considerable testimony supported the concept of Aichi Target 11 setting minimum, interim targets. Regarding terrestrial protected areas, much testimony was given in support of the idea articulated by Harvey Locke that “nature needs half” – that the ultimate goal should be to protect 50% of terrestrial areas and inland waters.”

Executive Summary

In 2010, Canada committed to a set of 20 targets known as the Aichi Targets established under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Target 11 commits parties to an aspirational goal of protecting at least 17% of terrestrial and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. The target also mandates that protection focus on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services and that protected areas be well-managed, ecologically representative, well-connected and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes. Canada’s achievement of target 11 formed the foundation of the Committee’s study.

Intact, functional ecosystems – both terrestrial and marine – provide habitat needed to maintain biodiversity and its inherent value as well as ecosystem services essential for human well-being. As Canada’s natural spaces are threatened by human activity, Canada urgently needs to establish an integrated network of protected areas of high ecological value across the land and water.

In addition to the benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services, investments in protected areas bring jobs and other long-term economic benefits, often to rural, economically underdeveloped communities. Establishing protected areas in partnership with Indigenous peoples provides a means of advancing shared conservation objectives while simultaneously advancing reconciliation.

Canada has a long way to go to meet Aichi Target 11. Currently, 10.57% of terrestrial and 0.98% of marine areas are counted as protected. However, target 11 is an interim goal toward more comprehensive protection. It has been suggested that perhaps 50% of terrestrial and marine areas is needed to safeguard Canada’s natural heritage. It is clear that a great deal of work remains to be done.

Federal protected areas account for about half – 45% terrestrial and 83% marine – of Canada’s total protected areas. Accordingly, collaborative action by all levels of government including Indigenous governments, landowners, industrial stakeholders and civil society is required to resolve issues of competing uses for land and water in order to achieve and exceed our targets. Protecting areas in the Arctic marine and boreal regions are of particular importance.

The federal government has a variety of roles to play to meet our targets. It must provide the leadership needed to ensure coherent and coordinated plans are developed to reach the targets. It must partner with Indigenous peoples to establish and recognize new types of protected areas in Indigenous territories while providing new opportunities for Indigenous economic development and advancing reconciliation. The federal government must also put its own house in order by coordinating its efforts, accelerating the establishment of federal protected areas and demonstrating political will, including through the provision of funding.

The Committee has made 36 recommendations to the federal government to help Canada rapidly increase the extent of its protected spaces in a coordinated and equitable manner. Recommendations include:

  • Accelerating the establishment of national parks, national marine conservation areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national wildlife areas, marine protected areas and other federal protected areas by:
    • establishing multiple protected areas concurrently,
    • ensuring that no federal policy or legislation, such as the Mineral and Energy Resource Assessment and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, slows the process of establishing protected areas;
    • encouraging the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to explore more effective and innovative mechanisms to expedite protection for marine and coastal areas; and
    • legislating a timeframe for the development of a national network of
      marine protected areas;
  • Ensuring adequate protection for federal protected areas by:
    • confirming minimum standards for federal protected areas; and
    • enabling interim protection for national marine conservation areas before they are formally established;
  • Adequately funding the establishment and management of federal protected areas, including funding asset maintenance and monitoring in protected areas and establishing a dedicated land acquisition fund for protected areas;
  • Improving coordination within the federal government by taking a wholeof-
    government approach to protected areas;
  • Ensuring that the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals is applied to any proposed
    acquisition or disposal of federal lands;
  • Helping to coordinate the establishment of networks of protected areas by:
    • creating a federal protected areas system plan that incorporates not just national parks but all federal protected areas, terrestrial
      and marine;
    • creating mechanisms for federal/provincial/municipal/Indigenous cooperation and encouraging public participation in the establishment of protected areas; and
    • leading science-based assessments toward identifying priority areas for protection and ensuring connectivity.
  • Partnering with Indigenous peoples to establish a national guardians program and recognizing Indigenous protected areas; and
  • Exploring various methods to support private landowners and communities in their efforts to protect their lands.

Canada’s natural spaces and biodiversity are at the heart of our national identity, but they are increasingly threatened. Canadians expect their governments to effectively protect and manage the land and water to safeguard Canada’s natural heritage. Governments must act now.

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