Nature Emergency -Time to Make it Official

C​anadian environmentalists are calling on all levels of government to recognize the global mass extinction of species as a Nature Emergency. Learn more here.

I​n an earlier post, we discussed the fact that all life on earth is going through a mass extinction. That’s not unheard-of. We know about at least five mass extinctions in prehistoric times. This modern one is different. Over a million animal and plant species are facing extinction at once. That is more than ever before in human history. It’s hard to say how destructive this nature emergency will be for the biosphere because it’s unprecedented.

We hear a lot about climate change and, of course, it’s part of the extinction problem. It’s one of the five root causes, but it’s not the most serious one. In order of importance, our mass extinction problem is the result of land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. We humans are to blame for all five.

Dare to Know is proudly Canadian. That means we should narrow this issue down to see what our own country can do. Canada is the second largest country in the world geographically. Russia is the one country that is larger. Canada has 7% of the world’s land mass and 17% of the world’s fresh water. We also have the longest seacoast in the world.

Half of all species in Canada are declining

The World Wildlife Fund of Canada has found that about half of all species in Canada are declining. Half of these have declined by as much as 80% since 1970. In keeping with the most critical root cause mentioned above, Canada has a plan to improve our land and water use.

We have committed to preserving 17% of our land and fresh water by 2020. Our federal government has committed $1.3 billion to nature conservation. Commendable as this is, it won’t be enough. If we are serious about averting a nature emergency, we need more ambitious goals. We’re also behind schedule. We are a year and a half from the deadline for our goal of 17%, and we are sitting at 12%. Canada won’t reach our goal at this pace.

The United Nations is working on a new strategic plan for the decade ending in 2030. It’s called the UN Convention for Biological Diversity. The theme for the new plan is “living in harmony with nature”, which is what Dare to Know is all about. An expert consensus is building that, if we are serious about reversing the nature emergency, we need to commit to preserving half of our planet in its natural state.

plan on conserving 30% of land, freshwater and ocean by 2030

We can’t manage all that in one decade. We can set a milestone, though. The experts are saying that we should plan on conserving 30% of the world’s land, freshwater and ocean by 2030. A group called the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (PAWS) is calling on Canada to align with this target. In a new report called Canada’s Nature Emergency, PAWS points out that Canada has some unique responsibilities.

It’s not because Canada is big, although it certainly is. Most of Canada is also unspoiled. Canada includes 20% of the world’s wild forests and 24% of its wetlands. Almost 1/3 of the world’s sequestered carbon is stored in Canadian ecosystems. PAWS tells us that growing numbers of experts think of Canada as a “potential conservation superpower”. We can think of it as a duty or an opportunity. Either way, Canada is in a position to lead the fight against the global mass extinction.

Back in June, the federal parliament declared that Canada was facing a national Climate Emergency. PAWS is calling for governments at all levels to also declare a national Nature Emergency. Both emergencies threaten the well-being of all Canadians. They need to be genuine priorities. It’s debatable how serious the current federal government is, even about the Climate Emergency. Within hours of declaring it, they approved a major pipeline. They plan to transport diluted bitumen (a carbon intensive fossil fuel) from the Alberta tar sands to a sensitive coastal habitat.

land use indigenous-led and participatory

To get to the goals proposed for 2030, PAWS calls for regional planning. They expect this land use planning to be indigenous-led and participatory. It should be evidence based, drawing on both indigenous knowledge and environmental science. The plan should connect the protected areas with one another. Canada has at least eight broad types of ecosystems, and they should all be represented in the plan.

The International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been leading a movement to standardize the designation of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA’s). PAWS calls for this KBA approach to be part of the Nature Emergency Plan for Canada. Cultural heritage sites should also be preserved under the plan. Since this is part of a UN strategy, standards used in the plan should align with other international standards.

The Canada’s Nature Emergency Report includes a ten point plan that explains the approach in more detail. The important thing to realize is that concern for the earth goes beyond climate change. Climate change is the central issue of our times, but the mass extinction is also critical. Even if climate change were solved tomorrow, the nature emergency would still be with us. We would still have to change our land and water use.

Download a copy of the PAWS report and learn more about how to support this plan for your future well-being.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:
Mass Extinction Happening Now
Finding New Ways to Share the Land
Mark Twain and the July Heat Wave


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