Canada is dragging its ass on land and freshwater conservation

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s annual report is out, and the news is bad. There’s a lot of info in the report, but if we distil out the essence of it, what were left with is this:

  • Canada is a signatory to the Aischi Targets outlined under 2010’s UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • Aichi Target 11 calls for signatory countries to have at least 17 per cent of their territory and inland waterways protected by 2020.
  • Canada isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.
  • Canada is in the minority on this one.
  • This country could easily pull up its socks and meet its obligation.

Right, so what does that all mean? Well, the other countries who’ve signed the deal are doing alright. Half of them are going gangbusters, with 17 per cent or more already protected. Canada? 10 per cent. Seriously.

An even bigger problem is that the land that is protected is essentially a patchwork of unconnected chunks. While it’s better than nothing, the fact is that our protected areas trend towards the minuscule, usually less than 10 square kilometres, and they’re isolated from one another. What we need is a network of much larger, interconnected areas so that far-ranging species won’t be secure while they’re kicking back in the living room, just to get up and discover that someone’s built a mine through the kitchen. I’m simplifying, here, but the underlying concept is pretty solid.

Kicking tomorrow

Thing is, Canada is home to 20 per cent of the Earth’s wild forest cover. That makes us curators of a large part of the planet’s well-being. But according to the report, ‘The health of all Canadian ecosystem types is trending downwards’ (Protecting Canada: Is it in our nature? How Canada can achieve its international commitment to protect our land and freshwater, P.6). This isn’t really surprising; the political climate in this country is toxic to climate science, and our government seems to be almost waging war against a cleaner future.

The Navigatible Waters Act comes to mind. Remember how the NDP called Harper out for paring Canada’s 2.5 million protected rivers and lakes down to 159? Skeptics quickly quickly chimed in that the Act only pertained to navigation, and that the eco part was still covered by existing laws. Fair point, except that the government had already used a loophole in the Fisheries Act to allow toxic dumping, then gutted the Act itself in two subsequent omnibus bills. I’m not making this up; it comes straight from page 5 of Blue Betrayal: The Harper Government’s Assault on Canada’s Freshwater, penned by Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians. And if Barlow says something, you’d better believe you can take it to the bank.

So, why would a government make such a disastrous policy a central plank of its platform? And how can a big segment of the nation not only let them get away with it, but actively buy into the whole broken narrative?

Simple: people who don’t believe in climate science tend to have their asses in hock to big industry. Look at whose heads are in the sand, then follow the money.

Again, I’m simplifying. But still.

The issue is easy to solve.

On a provincial and territorial level, we’re all over the place. Quebec is moving to beat the target while PEI clocks in at a whopping 0.2 per cent protected land (Protecting Canada: Is it in our nature? How Canada can achieve its international commitment to protect our land and freshwater, P.26). But there are plans at all government levels to make that better; there is massive work being done by the first nations and by private citizens alike. All we need is the political will to get these plans into action — which is not actually a done deal. All you have to do is look to Ottawa, where the spin originally had it that we were going to meet our obligation, then the target didn’t even blip in the National Conservation Plan of 2014. And unfortunately, lighting a fire under the politicians’ collective ass takes getting a disenfranchised voting public to care.

Look, it’s getting harder to muster up the same indignation we used to feel whenever a government did something stupid. I can definitely attest to the fact that yes, outrage fatigue is a thing. But really, take any pet cause or civil rights issue; any glass ceiling or confederate flag or pay inequality or anti-privacy move you can think of, and none of it means a thing once the west is baked dry, the forests are gone and our coastal cities are under the waves.

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