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Climate Negotiations and Justice for Vulnerable Populations
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Climate Negotiations and Justice for Vulnerable Populations

Volunteer inspects trees at a tree nursery in Oviedo, Dominican Republic
On Monday I had the opportunity to spend the day at a learning conference that Nature Canada, as a member of the Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development (C4D), helped organize.
C4D brings together many of Canada's development and environmental organizations around climate change adaptation, financing and other climate change issues that affect our partners in developing countries. Nature Canada participates in C4D primarily because our integrated conservation and development work cannot ignore climate change and to advocate for the protection of nature and ecosystem-based approaches in climate change adaptation policy and action.
This year, C4D decided to learn more about REDD - the mechanism that is being negotiated internationally to reduce emission from deforestation and forest degradation - and about the debates around its potential impact on small farmers, indigenous peoples and other marginalized and vulnerable people. Earlier this year we held a small learning session about REDD and on Monday 4 panels of fabulous speakers from Canada and the South helped us learn and reflect on the upcoming meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban in November and the upcoming Rio + 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012; REDD and other financing mechanism for mitigation; the role of agriculture; and the opportunities for Canadian civil society organizations around these international fora.
I am still taking all this in, but I heard a few clear messages:
1. Governments are not listening to scientists and are not acting on the opportunity to keep climate change below the level that may avert great human and ecosystem harm (an average increase of less than 1.5 degrees Celsius) before it is too late
2. The most vulnerable, including women, will suffer the most: climate change is a social justice issue, and developed countries need to fund and support adaptation. We need to build RESILIENCE
3. Social and local mobilization are sources of hope, as are, potentially, municipal and provincial governments
4. Upcoming meetings promise little if any progress; but we need to avoid bad decisions, particularly on agriculture, technology transfers and forests
5. Every effort to support action on climate change mitigation and adaptation counts: we can't give up!
Learn more, talk to others, talk to your government, mobilize!
The conference was organized by C4D in collaboration with the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) Africa Canada Forum and Asia Pacific Working Group and Canadian Food Security Policy Group. It was possible thanks to the support of Canadian Foodgrains Bank, CARE Canada, CCIC with support from the International Development Research Centre, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
Reading suggestions, more detail on the conference and a related public event held Monday night are available here.
A webcast of the conference will be available soon. Check back on this blog for the link.Want to know more about Nature Canada's work in developing countries? Check out our projects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

What’s threatening Alberta’s protected areas? The law, actually…
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What’s threatening Alberta’s protected areas? The law, actually…

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Since posting this story just hours ago, we've learned that Bill 29, the proposed "Alberta Parks Act", has been officially withdrawn from debate. Cindy Ady, Alberta's Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, has also agreed to conduct a public consultation on the proposed legislation, responding to urgent requests from concerned citizens and conservation organizations, alike. You can read more in the Edmonton Journal and in the Sierra Club of Canada's related press release. We thank all Canadians - particularly Albertans - who spoke out in favour of the province's iconic protected areas system! We look forward to results of upcoming public consultations and hope that conservation remains the number one priority in Alberta's protected spaces!
Image of a ramOn Tuesday, Nature Canada, the Sierra Club of Canada (SCC) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) submitted a joint letter to Alberta Premier, Ed Stelmach, asking him to immediately withdraw Bill 29, the proposed "Alberta Parks Act". This Bill threatens to redefine the management priorities in Alberta's parks and will reclassify the province's existing Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves and Wildland Parks. These and other changes could threaten the ecological integrity of 1 existing and 1 nominated World Heritage Site in Alberta, in addition to risking new external pressures on 2 other World Heritage Sites in the province. In a substantial step backward for the province's protected areas system, Bill 29 proposes to "balance" conservation objectives with recreation and tourism. In our view, conservation should be prioritized over other activities in a system that effectively "...conserves unique and representative land within Alberta’s natural regions for present and future generations..." (cited from s.2(1) of the Bill). Astonishingly, there was no public consultation on Bill 29 prior to members of Alberta's Legislative Assembly debating and voting on it. As detailed in a joint press release issued November 23rd by Nature Canada, the Sierra Club of Canada and CPAWS,
The [Bill] removes prescriptive laws specifying what can and cannot happen inside parks, opens all parks to tourism development and off-road motorized recreation, and leaves all decisions between development and protection inside parks to Ministerial opinion. That includes Dinosaur [Provincial Park], Áísínai'pi [Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park], and the parks contiguous with Wood Buffalo, Banff and Jasper [National Parks].
Image of flowers in a fieldWhat's more, if Bill 29 passes into law it could affect the ecological integrity of numerous Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that coincide with provincially protected areas throughout Alberta. As BirdLife International's Canadian co-partner in implementing the IBA program, alongside Bird Studies Canada, we're concerned about what this could mean for birds and their habitats - especially Alberta's grassland birds. Nature Canada estimates that the proposed changes to Alberta's protected areas system would affect 5 nationally significant IBAs, 4 continentally significant IBAs and 35 globally significant IBAs. Visit the IBA Canada website to learn more about these and other IBAs across Canada. Bill 29 has already passed its second reading by members of Alberta's Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and could rapidly become law after its third reading. But the government of Alberta needs to hear what Albertans and Canadians think of this draft Law before it's too late! Our colleagues at CPAWS and the Sierra Club have organized letter-writing campaigns to help the public voice concerns over Bill 29 and the way it has proceeded. You can find them here: Alberta's new Parks Act puts parks at risk and Alberta's Parks Need You Help to safeguard Alberta's protected areas - for current and future generations of all Canadians. Photo 1: Bighorn Sheep, Alberta's provincial mammal Photo 2: Suffield National Wildlife Area, SE Alberta (A. Teucher)

Report says it’s time to end subsidies to fossil fuel companies
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Report says it’s time to end subsidies to fossil fuel companies

An oil pipeline stretches across the landscape
Last week the Climate Action Network released a report on the billions of dollars in tax breaks that the Government of Canada hands out to oil, coal and gas companies each year -- and the problems this poses for attempts to address our changing climate and transition to a greener economy. From the report, Fuelling the Problem:
By subsidizing fossil fuel producing companies the government is encouraging faster production and facilitating the rapid expansion of large fossil fuel projects such as the Alberta tar sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution.
Globally, artificially low costs of fossil fuels have been shown to encourage wasteful consumption, distort energy markets, and allow for increased greenhouse gas pollution, thereby fueling the climate crisis. Subsidizing oil extraction also makes investments in oil more attractive compared to lower carbon, lower risk alternatives, thereby increasing the lock‐in of economies into fossil fuels. In a time of fiscal constraint, the federal government could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue by ending unfair tax breaks to some of the richest companies in the world. Eliminating handouts to oil and gas corporations operating in Canada would also help the country take a step towards a cleaner energy economy. So why no action? Using leaked government memos, the report outlines a months-long strategy to downplay its responsibility to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, something all G20 countries agreed to do in 2009. According to the report, the Green Budget Coalition (in which Nature Canada is a member) has identified over $900 million in tax breaks to the fossil fuels industry that could be eliminated in the March 2011 federal budget.

Looking Deeper Into Fish Lake
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Looking Deeper Into Fish Lake

Grizzly bears are one of the species identified by the Prosperity Review Panel that would be adversely affected by development at Fish Lake.
 
The government of Canada made a good decision earlier this week when it turned down a proposal for an excessively damaging mine at Fish Lake, British Columbia. Nature Canada congratulated Environment minister Jim Prentice for respecting the conclusions of the federal environmental assessment of the project, and for respecting the will of First Nations about land use in their territory. Looking deeper into the context of that decision reveals some important insights and implications.
Environmental assessment works While the process of environmental assessment may seem mysterious from a distance, Nature Canada has been up close and personal with it many times over the years and we are convinced it works. Environmental assessment allows independent panels to consider expert testimony, reach conclusions about the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project, and identify mitigation measures that could limit the damage. The resulting recommendation to the government (and it is only a recommendation) can range from approval of the project, to approval on the condition that certain mitigation measures be required, to rejection of the project as proposed. Politics happens The government must then decide whether or not to accept the recommendations about the studied project, and this is where the hard facts of environmental assessment meet the vagaries of politics. The government can follow the recommendations completely, partially, or not at all. But thanks to the public nature of the assessment process, we the citizens know whether or not our government is approving projects that destroy our environment. This is where the vagaries of politics meet accountability to the voters. In the case of Fish Lake, Minister Prentice deserves credit for doing the right thing for Canada, despite pressure from within his own caucus to do otherwise. More to come Nature Canada is very engaged in two other environmental assessments that are awaiting a response from the federal government: proposed gas drilling in the Suffield National Wildlife Area, and the proposed Mackenzie gas project. In the case of the Suffield NWA, the environmental assessment report concludes that the proposal to drill 1,275 gas wells would interfere with the purpose of the National Wildlife Area. It also recommends that the government complete overdue work to identify the critical habitat of species at risk, and take other conservation action even if the project does not proceed. We are hopeful that Minister Prentice will accept all of this panel's recommendations too, reject the gas drilling project, and take other actions to better protect the national wildlife area. In the case of the Mackenzie gas project, the federal government has been accused of attempting to secretly make the panel rewrite some of its recommendations. This suggests a lack of appreciation for a key feature upon which citizens depend: the independence of environmental assessment panels. We congratulate the panel for standing up for the their independence in the interest of Canada. We hope Minister Prentice will show leadership and convince his cabinet colleagues to accept the panel's report. You can help us encourage the government to stop the Mackenzie Gas Project and to instead establish protected areas in the Mackenzie Region that will be safe from development. Changing the rules Parliament will soon be undertaking a review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. There is cause for concern, since the government already used the budget bill to weaken the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act earlier this year. You can be certain that Nature Canada will be working to ensure the review results in a stronger act, not a weaker one. Back to the lake(s) The decision about Fish Lake is a good news story, and we hope it does not go down in history as a rare exception. A loophole in the law that protects fish habitat, the Fisheries Act, allows the government to exclude some lakes from the protections of the act and let mining companies use lakes as dumps for toxic mining waste. A handful of lakes has been targeted so far, including Fish Lake in BC and Sandy Pond in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are concerned that this loophole threatens pristine lakes across Canada. Now that Fish Lake has been spared, it's time to take action on the others.

Canada’s Sahtu Region: Conserving the Land and Waters of the North
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Canada’s Sahtu Region: Conserving the Land and Waters of the North

 

Migrating Snow Geese by Stewart Marshall (via Flickr)
A land use plan for the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories has entered into its third draft, and with it comes hopes that important cultural and ecological zones will be protected before major industrial development begins. In comments issued last month, Nature Canada recommended that several ecologically significant spaces, including three Important Bird Areas, be given special status as Conservation Zones. The need to establish protected areas in the Northwest Territories is all the more important as communities there prepare for the possible advent of the Mackenzie Gas Project – one of the largest, most disruptive projects ever considered in Canada's north. Important Bird Areas in the Sahtu Region The Northwest Territories contains 17 Important Bird Areas, three of which are located inside the Sahtu Settlement Area: Lower Mackenzie River Islands IBA, Middle Mackenzie River Islands IBA, and Brackett Lake IBA. All three IBAs are currently designated as special management zones, and Nature Canada has recommended they be redesignated as conservation zones in the land use plan. These IBAs represent important breeding habitat for significant concentrations of several species that could currently be left vulnerable to disturbance from development. The Lower Mackenzie River Islands IBA is a major stopover along the Western Central Flyway, hosting as many as 112,800 waterfowl and about half a million snow geese in spring. The Middle Mackenzie River Islands IBA is visited by birds such as the Great White-fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Tundra Swans, as well as many duck species during annual spring migrations. Up to six percent of the global population of Snow Geese congregates here. Brackett Lake IBA provides excellent breeding habitat for ducks and is used by roughly two percent of the Canadian White-fronted Goose population. Edaííla and Colville Lake Edaííla, also known as Caribou Point, is a very important area for the people of Déline, and the NWT as a whole. The area rests on a massive 8,700 square kilometre headland that divides the east side of Great Bear Lake and is a key site during the annual migration of the Bluenose-East herd of barren-ground caribou. The area holds critical cultural and ecological significance for the people of Délįne and other NWT and Nunavut communities and represents important caribou and fish habitats in the region. In fact, Edaííla encompasses the entire Grandin Plains ecoregion, spanning boreal forest, boreal transition and tundra habitat types. There has long been substantial community interest in permanently protecting both the surface and subsurface areas of Edaííla. In fact, the people of Déline endorsed a failed proposal to designate Edaííla as a National Wildlife Area (NWA). Nature Canada has strongly recommend that Edaííla, in its entirety, be listed as a conservation zone to safeguard the ecological and cultural richness of the area for future generations, while ensuring that proposals to amend the Plan over time will not jeopardize the area. Nature Canada has also recommended that the Colville Hills area, home to the community of Colville Lake and approximately 120 km northeast of Fort Good Hope, NWT, be designated a conservation zone, given that the region offers critical breeding habitat for a significant number of ducks. The completion of a land use plan will give Sahtu residents a tool to balance cultural, economic and environmental interests – before major industrial activity begins. The plan will take effect upon approval by the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada.  

Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #5
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Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #5

This is the fifth species profile in this series highlighting migratory birds that may be at risk during their fall migration through the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.Northern Gannet With its striking plumage – pure white with black wingtips and bold lines around blue eyes – it is hard to miss the Northern Gannet. This remarkable species spends most of its life at sea and nests in a few large colonies in the North Atlantic. It feeds by plunge-diving up to depths of 22 metres in pursuit of fish. Most adults had already made their migration north, away from the Gulf, in April before the oil spill began. However, juvenile gannets remain in those dangerous waters and were among the first avian victims of the spill. The fall migration back to the Gulf occurs in October. There is no way of knowing whether the effects of the spill will be cleaned up by then, but the damage to the species' future has already been done.

Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #4
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Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #4

This profile is the fourth in the series highlighting Canadian migratory species that may be in harm's way as they migrate through the Gulf of Mexico and the area affected by the BP oil spill this fall.Sanderling The Sanderling is one of the most widespread shorebirds in the world. This small, plump sandpiper can often be seen running along the coast in flocks. Sanderlings feed by probing the sand along the tideline with their bills, chasing after receding waves to pick up stranded crustaceans and molluscs. An Arctic breeder, this species is common all along North American coasts during migration. Their spring migration, from late April through May, fell right at the start of the oil spill in the Gulf. Waves that formerly deposited food on the beach to fuel the rest of their journey instead deposited sticky slicks of oil that stained the birds a rusty orange. For those individuals that did make it to their breeding habitat in the Arctic, the fall migration back south takes place through July and August for adults and lasts through August and September for juveniles. As the spill continues to spread away from its epicentre in the Gulf, more of the American coast that these birds will use as stop-overs on their journey to wintering habitats in Central and South America is becoming toxic.
Read more of Nature Canada's commentary on the Gulf oil spill.

Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #3
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Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #3

This is the third bird profile in the series highlighting species that may be at risk from the BP oil spill during their fall migration from Canada through the Gulf of Mexico. Yellow Rail (Special Concern) Small, with buff, yellow and black plumage that mimics the tall grasses it hides in, the Yellow Rail breeds in isolated pockets across Canada's boreal forest. This marshbird, the second-smallest rail in North America, is rarely seen and quite secretive, but depends on the coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico during the winter. If oil begins to accumulate in the marshes along the Gulf coast, recovery would be difficult or impossible since so little is known about this species. Read more of Nature Canada's commentary on the Gulf oil spill. Photo by Dominic Sherony

Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #2
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Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #2

This profile is the second in a series highlighting some of Canada's migratory species that may be affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Roseate Tern (Endangered)
The Roseate Tern is similar in appearance to several other species of tern, with its black cap and long forked tail, but has a distinctive chi-vik or ki-rik call. This species feeds by plunge-diving, dropping into the water from heights of up to 12 metres to catch small fish.
These terns pass through the Gulf of Mexico, heading north in April to breeding sites in Nova Scotia and coastal New England, and south in September to wintering grounds in South America. If oil remains on the water when their fall migration begins, the birds are at risk of becoming oiled and ingesting oil as they try to feed. Even if the surface effects of the spill have been cleaned up, they may still be at risk from eating contaminated fish.

Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #1
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Canada’s Birds Feel the Impact of BP Oil Spill – Profile #1

The BP oil spill began during spring migration season for many birds that breed in Canada during the summer, and with oil continuing to spill into the Gulf, the coming fall migration seems poised to be a dangerous time for Canada's migratory birds. This weekly series of profiles will highlights some of the species most likely to be in harm's way. Piping Plover (Endangered) In Canada, this small, sandy-coloured shorebird breeds on open sandy beaches of lakeshores, river sandbars, ocean coasts, and alkali flats in scattered locations on the Atlantic coast, on the Great Lakes and in the prairies. Its plumage would seem to blend right in, if not for the bright orange legs. They often walk or run along the sand, rather than flying, to take advantage of this camouflage. Piping Plovers feed on marine worms or small crustaceans by a series of rapid steps and pecks on the sand. Piping Plovers spend their winters mainly on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, Mexico and Cuba, particularly on beaches, mudflats, sandflats, bays, lagoons and inlets. Their spring migration peaks during mid-April; while many individuals would have already left the Gulf when the leak at Deepwater Horizon began, some may have been caught in the spill. Although the fall migration peaks in August and September, plovers can begin to leave their breeding grounds as early as June or July if nest conditions have been unfavourable. These birds are heading straight to a region where their habitat and food sources may have been compromised and are still at risk from oil contamination. Read more of Nature Canada's commentary on the Gulf oil spill.

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