Canada must lead in fight against climate change and loss of biodiversity

The promise by Canada and more than 100 other nations to end the destruction of global forests by 2030 is among the most hopeful announcements to emerge from the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow this month.

Clearing forests and other land changes cause almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and reversing the trend promises more trees to absorb them. Importantly, protecting forests also helps stem the tide of vanishing species. Saving nature offers hope to both the climate and biodiversity crises at once.

Read the Op-ed by Sandra Schwartz, CPAWS National Executive Director, as published in The Star on November 9, 2021.

Full text below


Canada must lead in fight against climate change and loss of biodiversity

By SANDRA SCHWARTZ    NOVEMBER 9, 2021

The promise by Canada and more than 100 other nations to end the destruction of global forests by 2030 is among the most hopeful announcements to emerge from the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow this month.

Clearing forests and other land changes cause almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and reversing the trend promises more trees to absorb them. Importantly, protecting forests also helps stem the tide of vanishing species. Saving nature offers hope to both the climate and biodiversity crises at once.

Yet, Canada has been here before with disappointing results. In 2014, the country was among almost 200 signatories to the New York Declaration on Forests, a voluntary pledge to protect global forests that has seen record forest losses since. A recent review of declaration efforts concluded these must accelerate fivefold by 2030 to ensure forests play a role in keeping temperatures below 1.5C.

Honouring the new forest pledge made in Glasgow will take a similar push. With 20 per cent of the planet’s last intact forests, Canada is perfectly positioned to lead the charge.

Our country is already viewed as an international conservation champion. We were the first industrialized nation to sign the UN Convention on Biological Diversity almost 30 years ago, and we host the convention’s secretariat in Montreal. More recently, we committed to the G7 Nature Compact, the Leader’s Pledge for Nature, the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, and the Global Ocean Alliance.

t’s not all talk. Ottawa’s historic investments in conservation over the past three years have already helped Canada take steps toward its promised target of protecting 25 per cent of land and ocean by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030. Among these are commitments to create 10 new national parks and 10 national marine conservation areas in the next five years and to establish 15 new national urban parks by 2030.

Yet, we’re still falling short. The Canadian forests we pledged to protect see more than 400,000 hectares cut by industrial logging annually, and Canada now ranks third in intact forest loss behind only Brazil and Russia. Similarly, poor legal and policy safeguards for biodiversity mean we’re losing more nature every year.

Global leadership needs more from us. To start, Canada must stop using a loose definition of deforestation to justify the continued expansion of forestry and other activities into intact forest. In the spirit of the Glasgow agreement, all forest loss and land degradation must stop.

Additionally, Canada’s terrestrial and marine protected areas must be designed, managed, protected and connected in ways that ensure effective biodiversity conservation. According to a new ocean report by our organization, many ocean sites that Ottawa considers Marine Protected Areas are only weakly protected.

Our recent Report Card on Canadian conservation, meanwhile, found many provincial and territorial governments aren’t doing their share to save nature and to help Canada reach its conservation targets.

That’s why coordinated conservation must involve all levels of governments and other partners, working together toward our protection goals. Governments must continue to support and encourage Indigenous-led conservation and Indigenous Guardian programs that bolster land and ocean stewardship and protection while encouraging reconciliation.

Finally, Canada must play it straight when relying on nature to help fight climate change. Nature-based solutions, like protecting forests, must complement rather than replace cutting fossil-fuel emissions. These solutions must be implemented in places and ways that maximize both climate and biodiversity benefits while respecting Indigenous leadership.

The world is watching. As the federal government welcomes its new Parliament and readies its speech from the throne later this month, the promises we made in Glasgow — including our pledge for forest protection — should be at the forefront of our plans.

The science is clear. Protecting land and ocean is vital to a world at risk of collapse from the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Both of these global catastrophes need Canada’s leadership. With our vast tracts of nation-spanning forests and the planet’s largest coastline, Canadians must lead by example: We can show the world that hope is in our nature.

Sandra Schwartz is the National Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).