Cliffs of the Pethei Peninsula overlooking Tu Nedhe (Great Slave Lake) in Thaidene Nëné, which protects 6.5 million acres of the ancestral homelands of the Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation and will be co-governed by the Nation, federal and territorial governments. (Photo © Pat Kane)

Canada calls on large nations to conserve 30% of their territory and waters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling on the world’s largest countries to commit to protecting 30 per cent of their lands and waters to stop the loss of the planet’s biodiversity.

Trudeau made that call today at a special session of the United Nations via video conference on the sidelines of the virtual General Assembly meeting.

Trudeau was taking part in the Leaders Event for Nature and People that also featured the leaders of Costa Rica and Norway.

Over a million species worldwide are threatened with extinction and human actions have already significantly altered 75 per cent of land and 66 per cent of the marine environment, according to figures presented by the federal government.

In Canada alone, populations of species assessed as at risk have declined on average 59 per cent since 1970. According to the Canadian Species Index, between 1970 and 2016, the population size of monitored mammal species decreased by 42 per cent on average and fish species by 21 per cent.

25% by 2025, 30% by 2030

The Trudeau government has already committed to 25 per cent of its lands and oceans by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.

“Every country will find it difficult to protect 30 per cent of their land and protect biodiversity. So, it’s not about who is doing better,” Trudeau said.

“In terms of sheer acreage of the world, we need to get those other nine largest countries in the top 10 to do their part and step up as well.”

After Russia, Canada is the world’s second largest country by land mass, followed by the U.S., China and Brazil.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Canada is uniquely positioned to contribute to preserving the world’s biodiversity.

“We have both the responsibility and the opportunity. We have the second largest land mass, a fifth of the world’s freshwater, and the longest coastline in the world, that together are critical for biodiversity and for securing carbon in nature in the fight against climate change,” Wilkinson said in a statement.

Indigenous leadership

The Edéhzhíe Indigenous Protected Area/National Wildlife Area will conserve 14,249 square kilometres of boreal forest and will be jointly managed by Dehcho First Nations and the federal government. (Bill Carpenter/Dehcho First Nations)

Canada will be working with Indigenous Peoples as necessary partners because they “understand how important it is to be good stewards of these lands and these waters that sustain us,” Trudeau said.

Frank Brown, senior leader with the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, which works on creating Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas across the country, welcomed Trudeau’s statement.

Trudeau’s emphasis on Indigenous-led conservation will help Canada achieve its nature and climate goals, Brown said.

“Respecting this leadership will also advance reconciliation and build a more equitable and sustainable future,” Brown, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, said in a statement.

Much of Canada’s recent progress in conserving lands has come from Indigenous Nations, he added.

“Now, by placing Indigenous-led conservation at the heart of its approach to protecting both nature and climate, Canada can lead the world in promoting a new model of ethical conservation – one rooted in respect, responsibility, and reconciliation,” Brown said.

In late 2019, Costa Rica and France announced their intention to rally a so-called High Ambition Coalition, with a goal of conserving 30 per cent of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030.

This target is expected to be adopted as a part of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework at the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2021. 

With files from Mike Blanchfield of The Canadian Press

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