LETTER: Canada’s goals for the UN Conference on Biodiversity

Environment and Climate minister Steven Guilbeault states that “Progress cannot come fast enough.”

Steven Guilbeault is the federal minister of environment and climate change. We are publishing his opinion piece for the reference of our readership. Stay tuned for Jenn Thornhill Verma’s coverage of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in the Seasplainer column this December.

Canadians are a nature-loving people.  Many of us have found some deep connection with a natural space in this vast and beautiful country. We make that connection close to home through walks in the woods, a stroll along a riverbank, or a visit to a tide pool.  Some of us go further to seek out Canada’s awe-inspiring mountains, waterfalls and old growth trees or paddle our lakes and coastlines.

Growing up in a small town in Northern Quebec, the forest was my backyard and playground. I realized my own life mission as an environmental activist when at age five I climbed a tree to protect my backyard forest from developers. 

Nature is core to Canadians’ identity, what we are known for around the world and a source of national pride. 

But nature everywhere is under siege. This month, the Living Planet Report 2022 from the World Wildlife Fund catalogued how global wildlife populations have declined 69 per cent since 1970, including 20 percent in North America.

According to the federal Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, Canada not only has the world’s longest coastline, we also boast 24% of the world’s boreal forest, 25% of the world’s temperate forests, 25% of the world’s wetlands, 2 million lakes and the 3rd largest area of glaciers on the planet.

So it is fitting that, this December, Canada will host the largest United Nations Biodiversity Conference in a generation to tackle the serious challenges facing the natural world. Our mission is guided by progress, protection and partnership. 

Called “COP15” this Nature COP meeting will see thousands of foreign delegates from 196 countries gathering in Montreal to make new commitments on the protection of nature and species at risk worldwide. 

Progress cannot come fast enough. A million species are at risk of extinction. Natural ecosystems are disappearing, threatening freshwater supplies and the climate. Protecting nature and reducing emissions to fight climate change are interconnected. The call to protect nature must receive the same attention as does the climate.  

At home, we’re driving progress to reach our commitment of protecting 30% of our land and 30% of our oceans by 2030. It’s ambitious, but when you look at what we’ve done already on oceans, going from less than 1% protected in 2015 when we took office to over 14% today – I know we can make it happen. To get there, we have launched the greatest conservation campaign in the country’s history, fueled by multi-billion dollar investments available to the provinces and territories. We’re ready to keep stepping up. 

We’re also going to be stepping up our ambition on the protection of key, iconic species that are important to our ecosystems, to our communities, and to who we are as Canadians. We know caribou protections can wait no longer. We’re reintroducing plains bisons to Banff National Park. As we come up to the Nature COP in Montreal, we’ll have lots more to say.  

And finally, we’ll continue to do all of our work in partnership with Indigenous communities, walking this shared path together. Indigenous Peoples must be partners from the outset, both at home and internationally – something that, too often, was not the case in the past.

Canada has ambitious goals for the conference, just as we do domestically. 

First, is to get all countries to commit to halting and reversing the loss of nature to make the world nature positive by 2030. 

Second, to get commitments to conserve 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030, which scientific research shows is the minimum necessary to address the biodiversity and climate crises. The largest geographic countries, who harbor vast natural landscapes essential to regulating our climate and the home to many species, are vital to this effort.

Third, we need to mobilize resources to achieve this from government, the private sector,  philanthropy and multi-lateral institutions.  

These three goals can only be realized if everyone around the world joins us.

Nature knows no boundaries — not local, not provincial or territorial and not international. We are all in this together. 

The Nature COP is Canada’s chance to show the world we can and will do our part from coast-to-coast-to-coast and to urge the world to join us in protecting nature for a truly sustainable future. 

From Nova Scotia’s smallest honeybee to the mighty BC red pine, nature is part of who we are. It’s under threat. Let’s save nature so it can save us. 

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