Most provinces didn’t come close to meeting 2020 conservation targets, report says

Quebec and the federal government are the only jurisdictions to come close to meeting Canada’s 10-year-old international promise to conserve 17 per cent of its land mass by 2020, a new report says.

Nationally, Canada met and exceeded its goal to conserve 10 per cent of its oceans, but fell short by more than three percentage points on the goal to conserve 17 per cent of its land mass, according to the report released Tuesday by the  Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The society says Alberta performed the worst, cancelling previously planned protections, delisting parks and attempting to open the Rocky Mountains to coal mining.

“A lot of it has to do with political will,” said society spokeswoman Alison Woodley. 

The group chose to examine how close different Canadian jurisdictions came to meeting its Aichi targets, an international agreement signed by Canada in 2010. The idea, said Woodley, was to learn how to better meet the next set of conservation goals — 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030.

Report looked at international standards

The report used internationally recognized standards of what constitutes protection and federal data on the amount of land covered.

“They [the federal government] can take action on conservation in the ocean,” Woodley told CBC Radio’s The Current, “On land, it’s primarily the provinces and territories that have the responsibility.” 

The report credits funding — the 2021 federal budget included $2.3 billion for conservation — as well as a willingness to work with Indigenous groups for Ottawa’s progress.

Quebec nearly met its land conservation goals, conserving 16.7 per cent of its territory.

“The province worked with communities and First Nations to identify and deliver on new protected areas,” said Woodley.

‘Going backwards in many ways’

Alberta, not so much. Although the province has more than 15 per cent of its land mass protected, the report points out Alberta has attempted to delist parks and open its Rocky Mountains to coal mining, and has walked away from plans that would have created some of the biggest protected areas in the country.

“It’s not just about areas of protections,” said report author Anna Pidgorna. “Alberta’s going backwards in many ways.”

Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Parks did not immediately respond to a request to outline conservation measures taken by the United Conservative government.

Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador share Alberta’s F grade. Ontario has protected less than one per cent of its lands over the last decade, with a similar story in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the percentage of protected land is among the lowest in Canada.

“We need them to step up and we need everybody to work together,” said Woodley, “And supporting Indigenous leadership and conservation is a key way that we can find a path to success over the next decade.” 

Most provinces have positives and negatives

The rest of the country is a mix, said Woodley.

Saskatchewan is criticized for protecting less than 10 per cent of its land and weakening protections on native grasslands, but praised for working with Indigenous groups and granting interim protection to one new area.

Manitoba made early progress, the report says, but has lately discussed selling off park land.

British Columbia has almost 20 per cent of its land under protection. But the province is criticized for no recent progress and underfunding the parks it does have.

‘Conservation takes time’

“So we really did the report card as a way to look back and kind of learn some lessons from the past decade to set us up to do better over the next decade,” said Woodley to The Current

The Northwest Territories received a B-plus for creating large new protected areas and working with Indigenous groups to define and manage them.

Woodley said the study shows that funding makes a big difference to creating protected areas. So does time and patience.

“Conservation takes time,” she said. 

“A major barrier to delivering on the 17-per cent target was a lack of time. If we’re going to meet the 30-per cent target, we need to start now.”

Woodley said conserving land is the best way to address the loss of species and shrinking biodiversity around the world.

“Habitat loss is the primary driver of nature’s decline,” she said. “Protecting habitat has to be a core part of the solution.”

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