Montreal had its “Paris Moment”, now the real work begins. Here’s how Alberta could play a huge role in global conservation
Tara Russell, Katie Morrison, Elise Gagnon
CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta chapters are encouraged to see the new ambitious global biodiversity framework agreed to this week in Montreal. If implemented, the Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework will mean real strides towards a nature positive future with ambitious goals to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
Each province and territory has its unique challenges and opportunities in meeting the targets laid out in the framework. Alberta has an opportunity to take action on conservation issues in its jurisdiction, which in turn, will play into these national and international goals. It is difficult to wrap one’s head around how a global framework could be applied in our own backyards; Here, we have set out how the targets from the framework (all are important but there are a few of special interest to us) can be applied to conservation issues in Alberta.
Albertans’ opinions reflect global concern for biodiversity loss
Now, more than ever, we must work collaboratively to create a future where nature can thrive. The results of COP15 highlight the global concern for biodiversity loss, one that is shared among Albertans. Recent polling shows that 95% of Albertans are concerned about the loss of wildlife, with the vast majority (77%) supportive of increasing protected areas to protect wildlife habitat to prevent further decline of wildlife populations. The true key for biodiversity will be the implementation of the goals and targets over the next decade, and to do that in Canada we will need full participation of the provinces. In Alberta, 60% of the province is public land that is managed by the Government of Alberta.
Alberta is not immune to biodiversity loss. Over 90 species that call Alberta home are listed on the Species at Risk Act, primarily due to habitat loss or fragmentation, including such iconic species as Woodland Caribou, bison, and three species of native trout. Protected areas are a proven way to improve outcomes for wildlife like those imperiled here at home. In turn, healthy, protected landscapes provide a myriad of benefits to people including recreation and tourism opportunities and ecosystem services such as clean water and air, and drought and flood mitigation. Fortunately, Target 3 of the brand-new Global Biodiversity Framework includes a commitment to protect 30% of land and ocean by 2030! Even better, recent polling showed that 85% of Albertans are in favour of the province committing to protecting 30% of its land for conservation purposes by 2030.
CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta staff and Indigenous partners attended COP15 as part of a larger delegation. The events hosted by CPAWS and our presence there served to highlight the opportunities for Indigenous-led conservation, the need for funding and conservation commitments across Canada. It was energizing to spend time with people from around the world that were aligned in the view that we must take action to prevent the destruction of nature, and loss of wildlife.
Representatives from the Dene Tha’ First Nation, including the Chief, attended COP15 to bring attention to the opportunity for the creation of an IPCA in the Bistcho Lake Region of Northwest Alberta to safeguard the cultural and environmental values of the area – a project that will need provincial support to become a reality. Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) represent a conservation tool to protect biodiversity, maintain community connections to the land, act as Nature-based Climate Solutions, and contribute to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The new global biodiversity framework is clear that respecting and recognizing the rights of Indigenous people should be at the core of all actions to conserve biodiversity.
Framework targets that are especially relevant to Alberta conservation
The goals and targets laid out in the historic agreement for nature also highlighted the qualitative elements that are essential for protected areas to provide the benefits that they were created for. One of these is that it is imperative that existing parks and protected areas continue to be managed with conservation of wildlife and nature as the top priority. This does not include allowing high impact uses such as industry or damaging recreational activities within parks or protected areas.
There are key Alberta issues that align with the Global Framework for Biodiversity and there are tangible areas where the province can take immediate action. We have highlighted these opportunities below. The targets here have been abbreviated and condensed by subject topic, the complete targets are in the finalized framework.
Targets 1 & 3: Ongoing land use planning processes must be completed and finalized.
- Caribou Sub-Regional Plans need to be completed and implemented fully to enable the recovery of Woodland Caribou on provincial lands For these plans to be truly effective, and meet the requirements for protection of habitat under the Species At Risk Act, they should each include new conservation areas, particularly Indigenous led conservation areas.
- Several sub-regional plans have yet to be completed as part of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan including the biodiversity framework, and human footprint analysis and management plans.
- The management of recreation on public lands and protected areas needs to prioritize environmental protection and sustainable use. As part of implementation of the newly introduced Trails Act, land-use planning must be completed before new trails are developed and consideration needs to be given to closing trails that have caused damage or are in sensitive areas.
Targets 2 and 4: Implement conservation and restoration of key areas for biodiversity including habitat for Species At Risk.
- Commitment and real action is needed for the recovery of all species at risk in Alberta and their habitats including caribou, bison, westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout, and Athabasca rainbow trout.
- Increase funding to recovery of habitat for species at risk to address land management to avoid negative impacts of industry and recreation in these areas and focus funding and capacity towards restoration and reclamation in damaged areas.
Target 3 & 11: Alberta has a key role to play in increasing the amount of protected land and ensuring our existing parks and protected areas are well managed.
- Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) represent a conservation tool to protect biodiversity, maintain community connections to the land, act as Nature-based Climate Solutions, and contribute to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. There are several IPCA proposals in Alberta that require provincial support for implementation such as the Bistcho Lake IPCA.
- It is imperative that existing parks, protected areas, and other effective conservation measures be managed with conservation of wildlife and nature as the top priority to ensure life sustaining ecosystems remain functional. Effective protected areas do not include high impact uses such as forestry, other industry, or damaging recreational activities within parks or protected areas.
Target 7 & 18: Address opportunities to reduce harmful impacts to water from industrial activities by reducing pollutants and removing or reforming harmful subsidies that impact water and biodiversity.
- Downstream communities, and freshwater ecosystems are threatened by wastewater and effluent from industrial processes. Effluent regulations, such as those in development for coal mines and oil sands tailings should be based on ecosystem and human health standards, not industry feasibility. Cross jurisdictional collaboration is needed for the development of comprehensive effluent management plans that prioritize environmental concerns and reducing or eliminating impacts to downstream communities.
- Coal mining poses a serious risk of water pollution by selenium, nitrate, arsenic and suspended solids among other pollutants. The future of the Eastern Slopes and our waters should be secured with a standalone piece of legislation that permanently halts all new coal exploration and development in the province. The legislation should also ensure the timely and effective remediation of areas impacted by coal exploration and mining. A Coal Policy for Alberta – 2022 and Beyond provides a good template for this legislation.
- The impact of the oil sands mine tailings are immense and concerning, specifically as they relate to the impacts on Wood Buffalo National Park. The province of Alberta must collaborate with Indigenous communities, neighbouring provinces, and the federal government in good faith to address threats facing Wood Buffalo National Park, including addressing oil sands monitoring deficiencies, tailings management, and halting the expansion of fluid tailings from oil sands mines.
- Coal, Forestry, and Oil & Gas all receive subsidies that permit habitat loss for wildlife, impact our headwaters, and ultimately will leave a lasting impact on our health and well-being. Subsidies that harm nature should be reduced, redirected, and reformed so that they either have a neutral or (preferably) positive impact on nature.
Target 10: Work with communities and stakeholders to advocate for an ecosystem-based forest management planning.
- Alberta’s forests are a huge part of our identity and responsibility. With increased concerns over species at risk, water and air quality in the face of climate change, now is the time to make a change. Establishing updated, sustainable forest legislation is a critical step in conserving and maintaining healthy forest ecosystems in Alberta for generations to come
Learn more about forestry management.
Target 11: Develop nature-based solutions in Alberta.
- There are many nature-based climate solutions that both help mitigate climate change and insulate communities against the negative effects of a changing climate, such as changes to weather patterns, floods and droughts. Intact natural landscapes act both as a carbon sink and protect the natural processes that regulate our environment. A made-in-Alberta climate policy that focuses on conservation of intact natural landscapes will also have positive effects on wildlife, recreation and diverse economic sectors such as tourism. As we shift to a lower carbon emissions future, we need to incorporate the value of nature for climate. Climate policy and actions to reduce emissions must consider the importance of nature-based climate benefits and must not have a negative impact on nature.
Target 19: Increase funding for conservation.
- Many governments are investing in strategies to rebuild from the economic crisis in a way that benefits human health and the environment, diversifies the economy, and increases equity among citizens. It is necessary that the Government of Alberta choose recovery strategies that will benefit nature and human society now and for decades to come. Therefore, we strongly encourage governments to make nature and biodiversity central to any economic recovery plans.
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