When it comes to biodiversity, how is Canada doing?

Protecting biodiversity

This week, Montreal is hosting a major United Nations conference on the biodiversity crisis around the world.

COP 15, as it is called, is being convened in hopes of galvanizing action to halt the loss of species around the globe, and the meeting is focusing attention on Canada’s efforts to do the same here at home.

So how are we doing?

Last month, the federal government produced a report on the status of more than 50,000 species across the country. The report—the fifth in a series published every five years since 2000—found more than 2,000 of those species are at risk of being lost in Canada. More than 100 of those species are found only in Canada and are at risk of extinction.

Bird populations are collapsing at very worrisome rates in North America, and now are over 30% below the levels they were 50 years ago. That represents a loss of about 3 billion birds.

So what can we do? Well, most of the species declines around the world are caused by habitat loss and that is certainly the case in Canada. Providing some level of protection for important habitats is clearly the best way to start stemming the tide of biodiversity loss.

The federal government has pledged to protect 30 percent of Canada’s land and water by 2030. Right now, only about 12 percent of Canada’s land and water habitats are protected and we rank 128th in the world in that regard—behind the United States and well behind Australia and New Zealand.

That 30 percent target is a good start, but Canada hasn’t been doing well with meeting other environmental targets in recent years. We haven’t met a single climate target ever, and we didn’t see any significant progress on reducing emissions until last year when the NDP opposition forced the government to table legislation that actually made governments accountable for their pledges to meet targets.

And that’s what we need to meet the challenge of biodiversity loss in Canada. We need legislation that has a process to set meaningful targets, a real plan on how we are going to meet those targets, and public, transparent accountability measures to make sure we succeed.

The plans for biodiversity protection must include a variety of habitat management models that include measures to protect wide-ranging species such as caribou as well as specific sites for other vulnerable species.

We have to be mindful that many of our most endangered species are found along the southern edge of Canada, in remnants of the warm broadleaf forests of southwestern Ontario, the tallgrass prairie of Manitoba and the dry grasslands of southern British Columbia.

So, the biodiversity plan must include key biodiversity areas as well as larger representative sections of more widespread eco-regions such as the boreal forest.

This will all involve partnerships with Indigenous peoples, non-government organizations and, of course, the provinces, which control most of the public lands in Canada.

It will take dedicated effort to ensure success. It is a task we must give utmost priority to. The health of the environments we live in, the environments that provide us with clean air, clean water and rich soils to grow our crops, relies ultimately on a rich array of species.

In Montreal, the world is watching what Canada will do to protect biodiversity here at home and around the globe.

Like climate action, we must take bold steps now to maintain a liveable world for future generations.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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