On Business and Biodiversity

Last week I attended a meeting on Business and Biodiversity. Representatives from a variety of companies were there — RioTinto Alcan, Inco Vale, Petro Canada, and the Mining Association of Canada as well as non-governmental organizations such as Nature Canada, World Wildlife Fund, and Wildlife Habitat Canada.

It seems that the corporate sector is beginning to realize that protecting nature is important in maintaining their social license to operate. This is a good thing. I often feel that the nature file is a second class citizen. It has been second class to the issue of toxic chemicals in the past and now it is second class to climate change. And yet, it is the nature agenda (which includes humanity) that is the very reason we are trying to address toxics and green house gas emissions.

However, setting aside land or water is a much tougher issue than dealing with toxic chemical contamination, reducing emissions or becoming more energy efficient. These latter issues are almost always addressed through engineering, innovation or new technologies. We can put scrubbers on our smoke stacks. We can introduce regulations to reduce a certain toxic chemical. We can use new technologies to improve our fuel efficiency.

But figuring out how to allocate a piece of land … that is a completely different story. In my opinion, it is a much harder issue to deal with because, bottom line, it comes down to values. Is this piece of land (or part of this body of water) best used for agriculture, for urban expansion, for forestry operations OR as a protected area? Fighting to get a protected area is one of the most difficult issues we face and it is because we all have to agree on the best “value” for that land/waterscape. There is no technological fix, and so we struggle.

As one of my friends once said — it takes 30 minutes to get a mining permit in some parts of Canada, but it can take 35 years and a room full of documents to get a new national park.

If we are going to really protect biodiversity, protected areas have got to be part of the solution and we need businesses in Canada to support the protected areas agenda — for humanity, for the provision of ecological services and for every other species that inhabits Planet Earth.