Canada’s renewed focus on protecting nature could deliver results
CANADA IS A COUNTRY DEEPLY CONNECTED TO NATURE. It underpins our sense of place, our well-being, and our economy. Maintaining the health of Canada’s ecosystems to sustain wildlife and people requires the creation of an extensive network of protected natural areas as the foundation for effective nature conservation strategies. This report examines Canada’s performance relative to other countries in protecting our land and freshwater, as well as progress made towards our international commitments.
In 2010, as part of a worldwide effort to stem the tide of biodiversity loss, Canada committed under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect at least 17% of land and inland waters by 2020 and to improve the quality of protected area systems so they conserve nature more effectively. Achieving this target is an important step towards the much larger-scale protection that is needed in the long-term to safeguard functioning ecosystems, healthy wildlife populations, and sustainable communities. The report finds that Canada currently ranks last among G7 countries, with only 10.6% of our land and freshwater protected. It also finds that we lag behind other large countries, such as Brazil (29.5% protection), China (17.1%), and Australia (17%). With all Canadian ecosystems in declining health and Canada’s list of endangered species growing each year largely due to habitat loss, urgent action is needed to protect much more of our land and inland waters.
Jurisdiction over land in Canada is shared among federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments. With 90% of Canada’s land and 100% of inland waters managed by governments, all jurisdictions need to work together to achieve our conservation commitments. The report points to hopeful signs that Canadian governments are finally starting to do this. Canadian governments have taken positive steps over the past 18 months, including commitments by the Prime Minister, as well as by federal, provincial and territorial Ministers to work together to achieve the 2020 target. A new collaborative “Pathway to 2020” process struck by governments to deliver on this commitment, and growing recognition that partnerships with Indigenous peoples, through nation-to-nation and Inuit-to-Crown relationships, all offer an opportunity to protect more land, and to contribute to reconciliation.
There are many protected area proposals across Canada that are well-advanced, have significant support, and are ready for protection. The report concludes by highlighting 13 of these exciting proposals where CPAWS chapters across Canada are working with partners on-the-ground to protect important ecological and cultural landscapes. These are opportunities for governments to demonstrate early progress towards achieving the 2020 target, and to set the stage for the scaled-up action needed to conserve nature and demonstrate Canadian leadership.