Provincial inaction behind Canada’s recent broken international conservation promise

More action required by provinces and territories to save nature and keep protected areas pledge to the world, a new CPAWS Report Card reveals

June 22, 2021, traditional unceded Algonquin Territory/Ottawa, Ontario – Conservation foot-dragging by provinces and territories was the main reason behind Canada’s failure to meet its international promise to protect at least 17% of its land by 2020. While the federal government, Quebec, and Northwest Territories earned the highest grades for their efforts to meet the target (A- to B+), according to a new Report Card by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), other provincial and territorial governments earned grades ranging from B to F. These governments will need to significantly improve their conservation performance in the years ahead if the country is to halt and reverse the critical decline of biodiversity and meet its pledge to protect at least 30% of its land and ocean by 2030.

The first of its kind, The Grades Are In: A Report Card On Canada’s Progress in Protecting its Land and Ocean is intended as a baseline against which to track Canada’s annual progress toward reaching its 30X30 protection goal. This assessment shows that a lack of commitment and ambition across much of the country stymied efforts to protect at least 17% of Canadian land and inland waters by last year’s 2020 deadline. Currently, only 13.1% of the country’s land is protected. Canada met its 10% ocean protection target by 2020 with 13.8% protected, albeit with concerns about the quality of conservation measures in some areas.

Without more commitment and measurable action from all the provinces and territories that are responsible for so much of our land base, Canada can’t successfully restore the healthy natural ecosystems that we all depend on,” said Sandra Schwartz, CPAWS National Executive Director. “We need everyone pulling together to reverse the biodiversity crisis confronting our planet.”

Protecting at least 17% of the world’s land and 10% of oceans by 2020 was a target agreed to in 2010 by most nations, including Canada, under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity – an international treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. In 2015, federal, provincial, and territorial governments adopted this target at the national level as Canada Target 1. The federal government has primary jurisdiction over managing the ocean in Canada, while provincial and territorial governments are largely responsible for land.

Recognizing the strong evidence that larger-scale protection is needed to save nature, Canada has promised to protect 25% of its land and ocean by 2025 and 30% by the end of the current decade and is encouraging other nations to adopt a new global 30X30 target when Convention signatories meet in China this fall.

This first CPAWS Report Card evaluated efforts to create protected areas over the past decade by Canada’s current federal, provincial, and territorial governments and assigned each jurisdiction a grade (except for Nunavut and PEI, where CPAWS does not have an on-the-ground presence).

The leading performers were Quebec (A-), the Government of Canada (A- for land and B+ for ocean), and the Northwest Territories (B+). Alberta, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador were laggards, earning F grades for their inaction and, in the cases of Ontario and Alberta, for actively undermining conservation. Other jurisdictions have mixed reviews.

While there is room for improvement everywhere, we particularly want to congratulate Quebec, which stands out as the only province or territory that promised to achieve the 17% and 10% targets and came very close to delivering,” said Schwartz. 

Jurisdictions that made the most progress in protecting land and ocean since 2010 all showed strong political will, supported Indigenous leadership, and made the most of increased federal conservation funding, including the $1.3 billion for nature announced by the federal government in its 2018 budget.

The goal of this inaugural Report Card is to learn from the successes and failures of the past to guide effective conservation into the future,” added Schwartz. “With the recent federal commitment of over $3 billion for nature conservation, including for partners, CPAWS is expecting real action – now – and we are looking forward to supporting this important work over the next decade.”

— 30 —


  • The protection of land and ocean is critical to halting the worldwide loss of wildlife habitat, which is the number one cause of population declines for species, in Canada and around the planet. In Canada, more than 600 species are listed as at risk of extinction.
  • Evidence shows that a minimum of 30% and up to 70% or more of land and ocean ecosystems need to be protected to sustain a healthy planet and secure essential ecosystem services for people. CPAWS’ long-standing goal of protecting half of Canada’s land, freshwater, and ocean is well-supported in the literature.
  • Effective Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a key component of a strong Blue Economy. Recent studies show that protecting 30% of the ocean in effective and well-managed MPAs can restore ocean health and produce an economic return on investments of ten to one.
  • Global biodiversity loss, happening up to a thousand times faster than the background rate, threatens life on Earth and is now a top-five threat facing the global economy, according to the World Economic Forum. Recent estimates by the insurance firm Swiss Re suggest more than half of the global GDP – $42 trillion USD – depends on high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Parks and related visitor spending support 64,000 jobs in Canada, generate a return of six to one in GDP, and return 44% of government investment back in taxes. Canada’s parks and protected areas have become increasingly important for domestic tourism as COVID-19 restricts international travel.
  • In June 2021, Leaders of G7 nations, including Canada, approved a Nature Compact in which they commit to a global mission to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, including by protecting at least 30% of land and ocean by 2030 in their own countries, and to championing 30X30 as a global target.
  • In October 2020, Canada joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, made up of more than 60 countries championing the 30X30 target.
  • Also in October 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined more than 80 world leaders in signing the Leader’s Pledge for Nature, which includes commitments to put nature and climate at the heart of COVID-19 recovery strategies and investments.
  • The Green Budget Coalition (GBC) includes 25 leading environmental organizations in Canada that analyze environmental sustainability issues and provide fiscal and budgetary recommendations to the federal government. Feature recommendations for nature and biodiversity conservation for the 2021 federal budget included: Nature-Based Climate Solutions and Creating and Managing Protected Areas, including Indigenous protected areas and Guardians programs, among other complementary nature conservation recommendations.
  • Read our backgrounder on the Economic Benefits of Protecting Nature in Canada.
  • Read our April 2021 news release welcoming the largest Canadian investment ever in nature as part of Budget 2021.


The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only nationwide charity dedicated solely to the protection of our public land, ocean, and freshwater, and ensuring our parks and protected areas are managed to protect nature. Since 1963, we have played a leading role in protecting over half a million square kilometres. Our vision is to protect at least half of Canada’s public land and water in a framework of reconciliation – for the benefit of wildlife and people. For more information about CPAWS and the work we do to safeguard Canada’s natural heritage, visit Join our community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Donate today. Take action.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Tracy Walden
National Director, Communications and Development, CPAWS