Canada needs to triple the amount of protected land and water to tackle ‘nature emergency’: report

John Paul Tasker

Biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history, study finds

Against a backdrop of shocking declines in the health of the world’s ecosystems and species, a new report from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) says the federal government must commit to much more ambitious targets to protect the country’s land and water if it’s to have a chance of staving off a “nature emergency.”

The report says biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history — over one million species worldwide are facing extinction, according to a recent, groundbreaking study. It argues Canada must adopt aggressive measures beyond current targets by promising to protect and restore 30 per cent of all the country’s land and inland waters by 2030 — about 330 million hectares.

That proposed goal would almost triple the amount of land currently protected through measures by federal, provincial and Indigenous governments. As of 2016, 11.8 per cent of Canada’s land mass had been set aside for conservation.

But the advocacy group says Canada shouldn’t stop at 30 per cent — that it should commit to protecting half the country’s landmass from development (including extractive industries like logging and oil and gas) at some point over the next century.

Beyond committing to such a move at home, CPAWS — the only nationwide charity dedicated solely to protecting public land and water — says Canada also should secure commitments from other countries to preserve 30 per cent of inland territory at talks in China next year. Countries are sending representatives to a conference in Beijing in 2020 to decide on new preservation targets as part of the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity.

“We need global goals and targets for the next decade that are on a scale that will actually tackle the nature emergency that we face,” Alison Woodley, an executive with CPAWS, said in an interview with CBC News.

“This is needed to reverse the decline that we’re seeing in nature, which is critical not only for wildlife but also for people, because nature provides all the basic necessities that we rely on, like water, food and oxygen.”

The federal Liberal government already has committed $1.3 billion over five years to nature conservation. CPAWS said that sum has given Canada a fighting chance of reaching its goal of protecting at least 17 per cent of land and freshwater by 2020.

Those government funds have helped already to buy new lands for preservation and conservation right across the country under the “Quick Start” initiative — through acquiring new protected spaces in Ontario’s Thousand Islands National Park, adding 30,000 hectares to Alberta’s Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park and expanding Quebec’s Parc des falaises and Halifax’s 927-acre Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park, among dozens of other projects.

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