Protected Nature and COP15: Why are these POW priorities?
How Biodiversity Conservation relates to Climate Change & Climate Action:
At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, a huge push to address global environmental issues led the UN to set up three conventions; on climate change, biodiversity loss and desertification. Since then, policies, research, and funding have been siloed into climate change or biodiversity loss. The issues are one in the same. Climate change is a major factor contributing to biodiversity change and loss and biodiversity is essential to slowing, stopping and adapting to climate change.
What is COP 15?
The 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity is an international meeting of governments to set new goals and action plans for the next decade to protect nature and halt biodiversity loss worldwide.
Why does COP 15 matter?
The 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity in Nairobi set targets to reduce the pressures on the natural world from development, overuse and pollution, yet failed to deliver on the commitments. In 2010, the world met again. This time in Japan and set the 20 Aichi Biodiversity targets. Ten years later, none of these targets have been met. Despite decades of global conservation targets, research, policy interventions, we are losing species at unprecedented rates. While localized conservation success stories give hope, natural habitats continue to disappear, and vast numbers of species remain threatened by extinction from human activities. Plus, over $500 billion of environmentally damaging government subsidies for unsustainable resource exploitation have not been eliminated. As with climate change, the upcoming decade is pertinent and will require large-scale international collaborations to effectively transform our collective societies and economies to protect and restore biodiversity, habitats, and ecosystems.
What are Canada's Biodiversity Conservation Goals?
Canada is advocating for international collaboration via the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to conserve and protect 30% of all land and oceans by 2030. This acknowledges that halting and reversing biodiversity loss requires collaboration and partnership with Indigenous Peoples, the original guardians of the land, real transformative change, innovation, and a proper accounting for the true value of nature in decision-makers across all sectors. Beyond land and water protection, Canada aims to move 60% of species at risk away from extinction by 2025.
Why does Canada matter?
Canada holds a quarter of the world's wetlands, and boreal forest, 20% of its freshwater and the longest coastline in the world. How we protect nature has a global impact.
Where is Canada positioned with its goals?
Canada is currently protecting 13.5% of land and freshwater and 13.9% of marine territory. Interim goals are to conserve 25% of lands and oceans by 2025 before the 30% at 2030 goals. A total of 841 Canadian species are designated as at risk for extinction including the endangered beluga whale and the timber rattlesnake, which now only exists in captivity. Nineteen Canadian species including the Passenger pigeon, Great auk, Dawson caribou, Ungava grizzly bear and Labrador duck are known to be extinct already. Between 1970 and 2014, Canada's mammal populations declined by 43%, amphibian and reptiles declined by 34% and fish populations decreased by 20% - with cascading impacts on the survival of the ecosystems and local communities that rely on them.
Our Species at Risk Act gives the federal government the ability to step in and push a province to protect species at risk of extinction. The Canada Wildlife Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act are in need of update. Federal investment has set aside $2.3 billion over the next five years for this action plan, but in addition funding it needs collaboration between federal, provincial and municipal governments to put plans and funds into action. The Species at Risk Act (SARA), if properly managed, could help save species such as Caribou, Woodpeckers, Swallows, Whales (Right whales, blue whales, killer whales and beluga), and all five species of Pacific Salmon (chinook, chum, coho, pink, sockeye) whose populations have collapsed.
What would Canada's conservation goals look like if they are just, equitable and effective?
When we say we need Canada to protect 30% of our land and water, we need to be more specific on our strategies to protect nature to ensure a just future for all life on earth.
Who: Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities & Everyone
Indigenous people and local communities, who have long standing cultural and spiritual connections to their land and seascapes form strongholds of natural protection. Despite often being the target of extractive industries, Indigenous Peoples protect over 80% of the earth's biodiversity. More than 5000 distinct Indigenous nations, 72 countries, 30 million Indigenous Peoples currently live on this earth and the recognition of the role IPLCs play in conservation has been steadily growing. The more secure the land-tenures and rights of the communities, the more we can produce healthier ecosystems and lower rates of deforestation. While indigenous people and local communities have secure land tenure on 1.3 billion acres globally, they live on and manage much more. Indigenous and community owned land now represents 25.6% of global land area, including about 40% of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes.
This points to the ongoing and central role IPLCs play in conservation, despite the marginalization of their knowledge. Giving power, space, and resources to uplift marginalized voices is therefore essential, while simultaneously ensuring that Indigenous peoples and local communities are benefiting from the conservation of nature. This includes ensuring access to live and work on traditional territories and rights for hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, harvesting and other activities are maintained or reinstated.
What: Large Intact & Connected Landscapes
Large intact landscapes are a seamless mosaic of ecosystems without industrial activity or infrastructure across areas over 500km2. Large landscapes are important because they encompass all the biodiversity of a particular biome including viable populations of wide ranging species which maintain ecological processes and services such as carbon storage, micro-climates, water filtration at a local and global scale. Fragmentation or loss of intact landscapes is primarily a result of industrial resource extraction (mining and logging), agricultural expansion and urban development. These activities cut ecosystems into ever smaller pieces which reduces the interacting diversity and creates what is known as the "edge effect".
Where we don't have large landscapes, supporting connectivity networks is key in supporting species. This can be local initiatives such as wildlife bridges to allow species to cross a highway or international protected corridors to ensure migrating birds have spaces to land along their journey While small parks, urban green spaces, and any protections for species are still great tools to support our conservation and climate goals, we need large landscapes to support viable populations of all species, provide global ecosystem services and sequester and store enough carbon to mitigate climate risks.
When: Protect Now & Restore Later
Transforming degraded or fragmented landscapes back to "intactness" and "healthy" is difficult and takes considerable time. In the case of old growth forests, this can take centuries. Therefore prioritizing time, effort and funds into the protection of existing intact ecosystems is essential before attempting to repair, regenerate or rewild landscapes. The best way to do this is to support the people and communities who are already living and managing their landscapes in ways that effectively protect and enhance the diversity of species around them.
Where: In Our Backyards & In Other Backyards
We exist in a paradigm: the challenges are global, but effective solutions require smaller scale, nuanced, context-specific local approaches. It is often easiest to place new protections on areas that have low economic value - remote regions without natural resources or development potential, but these aren't the places that need protection. Instead we need to protect areas in and around us, and the landscapes that are at risk from industrial resource extraction and development. Protected areas nearby provide key spaces for humans to interact and build connections with the land and wildlife. They also provide opportunities for healthy recreation activities. For example, Ontario's greenbelt can help limit urban sprawl, while providing ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water and air filtration, and local food. By placing protections in our backyards, we create more local land users who have a better understanding of the landscapes they live, work and recreate in and greater incentive to protect and manage their own natural resources sustainably.
At the same time we have to be careful we aren't taking a NIMBY - "Not in My Backyard" approach to nature protection. This is when local communities with the power and resources fight industry and development to protect their own backyards by pushing resource extraction and landscape degradation "out of sight" and into regions with more vulnerable populations.
How: Diversity of Thinking, Being and Acting
Old school conservationists pushed for what is known as "fortress conservation", which assumes that the exclusion of human impacts from protected spaces will enhance conservation goals. This colonial approach was a prevalent way of thinking during the creation of our national parks here in Canada. This pushed Indigenous peoples from their ancestral homes in the name of conservation. This has been proven to be an ineffective but more importantly unjust approach to protecting nature. Rather than removing humans from the natural landscape and putting up a wall from which we can only look in, we need to reintegrate and rebuild our relationships with nature. Moving away from the "silver bullet", "one-size-fits all" universal solutions. When knowledge, values, livelihoods, cultures, ways of life and worldviews are linked to the management and stewardship of natural landscapes, both human and non-human species thrive.
Educate: There is no one correct answer or right way to decide which parts of nature to protect or how to protect and manage nature. Instead, focusing on integrating muli-disciplinary perspectives (both western and non-western), and plural ways of protecting nature that encourage local context-specific and land-based approaches while acknowledging histories of colonization that have erased traditional ecological knowledge and community-based land management systems.
Inspire: Our narratives about human-nature relationships influence how we interact with(in) nature. Our landscapes, cultures and biodiversity evolved together through place-based interactions between humans, and non-human life, resulting in everything from our languages and vocabulary, to our food and fashion, to our values and governance systems. We need to unpack the narratives we hold that underpin the domination and destruction of nature (think "conquering mountains''.
Advocate: Widening participation to open up spaces for decision-makers and land managers that represent a fully diverse group of stakeholders is key. Actively encouraging Indigenous and local community engagement, as well as understanding the concerns of those whose livelihoods are dependent on extractive or destructive industries will increase buy-in, participation and thus successful outcomes in protecting nature. Everyone is responsible to play their part in protecting nature. this includes working simultaneously and holding decision-makers accountable from the local municipal level up to the international scale