As the Canadian government continues its work on a national climate change plan, it would do well to take note of what the United Nations has identified as one of the most promising tools to address greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) – the conservation of our natural habitats. Canada possesses some of the largest intact forests, waterways, grasslands, wetlands, marine and coastal areas in the world, areas that naturally store carbon through sequestration. Indeed, Canada is home to 9% of the world’s forests and 24% of the world’s boreal forests, while our GHGs represent only 2% of global emissions. By protecting our ecosystems, we are in a unique position to help mitigate not only our own emissions, but those of the larger global family.
In 2010, Canada adopted the Aichi Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity, committing us to protect 17% of our terrestrial areas and 10% of our coastal and marine areas by the year 2020. Although ambitious for a country as geographically large and diverse as Canada, and although not yet met, these targets are eminently achievable. If met, they would represent a very important step in ensuring that our country’s natural environment will be enjoyed by future generations and fulfil its function as an effective carbon sink.
Over the last decade, Canada has already set aside an unprecedented amount of terrestrial area. Alan Latourelle, former CEO of Parks Canada, recently explained that “…the last 15 years have seen one of the most significant national park expansion programs in the history of our country…..As we prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our nation, we need to stand tall and proud and celebrate the exceptional contributions we have made to conservation internationally, while charting a bold and inspiring path for the future.”
One major accomplishment was the establishment of the world’s first protected area that extends from mountain top to sea floor, namely the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area off BC’s coast. This project reflected some of the major advancements in conservation science by moving away from simple lines on a map and focusing on the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems in their entirety.
The proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories is another case in point, under which a 21st century approach to conservation will contribute to the protection of the barren-ground caribou, muskoxen, moose and black bear populations.
In all, recent contributions to achieve our Aichi Targets comprise an area almost twice the size of Vancouver Island, including the world’s largest freshwater protected area (Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area); a six-fold expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories; new National Wildlife Areas in Nunavut, protecting 4,554 km of marine and terrestrial habitat; three new Marine Protected Areas in BC, New Brunswick and the Beaufort Sea; and the creation of Canada’s 44th national park, Naats’ihch’oh National Park.
The imperative of conservation is pushing Canadians to reimagine their relationship with natural landscapes and prompting us to better understand the role those landscapes play in mitigating anthropogenic climate change. Inspiring the next generation of Canadians through hands-on educational programs, such as Earth Rangers, will be critical in ensuring that stewardship of our natural environment becomes as routine as brushing our teeth or washing the dishes. Managing eco-systems and enhancing our environment will also involve sustained collaboration among First Nations, industry, all levels of government, civil society groups, conservation organizations and private land owners.
We can already draw on some encouraging examples. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement brings together over 30 organizations in the Canadian forest industry, conservation community and marketplace to deliver a solution that promotes economic growth, sustainable harvesting practices, and environmental protection. Similarly, the landmark agreement to preserve the Great Bear Rainforest protects the largest tract of temperate rainforest on earth. And finally, the creation of Rouge National Urban Park will offer Canadians unprecedented access to Canada’s natural, cultural and agricultural heritage within the Greater Toronto area.
Industry is also doing its part. The Forest Products Association of Canada, utilizing improved harvesting and long-term forest management practices, has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 30 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030. Likewise, farmers are adopting low-till and no-till practices that measurably reduce the amount of carbon being released into the air, while improving agricultural yields.
Although Canada has recognized the immense value of conservation as a tool to achieve sustainability, much is left to be done. Our Aichi Targets are not yet within reach, and the lack of a national climate change plan continues to frustrate and generate significant uncertainty among stakeholders. It is my hope that, with sustained effort and commitment, we will become the world’s foremost champion of smart conservation.
The Hon. Ed Fast, P.C., Q.C.
Member of Parliament for Abbotsford
Official Opposition Critic of Environment and Climate Change
For More Information, contact: Brad Vis