A major down payment
On Monday, November 30th, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made room for nature in Canada’s economic and pandemic recovery plans. In addition to public health measures and multiple stimulus projects, the fall economic statement included a downpayment on Canada’s historic nature commitments. This is an encouraging sign for Nature Canada supporters and members who are taking action to make sure nature is at the heart of building back better! In this piece, we unpack what the investments mean and what must happen next.
Through the September Throne speech and repeatedly on the world stage, the Government of Canada has promised to address the nature and biodiversity crises. The Prime Minister committed to doubling Canada’s protected areas on land and ocean to 25% by 2025 and to invest in nature-based solutions to climate change, including by planting two billion trees over a decade. And they’ve started to take action.
Monday’s Fall Economic Statement delivered $3.9 billion over the next 10 years for nature-based climate solutions, including over $3 billion to create a tree-planting program in partnership with local governments, Indigenous communities, and groups like Nature Canada.
Nature Canada welcomes this “downpayment” with open arms. We’ll participate actively and advocate tirelessly to make sure that the two billion trees are planted in the right places, benefit wildlife and ecosystems, and are protected for the long term.
Restore nature to fight climate change
Also included was a $631 million investment to fight climate change and combat ecosystem loss by restoring important wetlands, grasslands, and peatlands in Canada. When restored, these natural systems will sequester carbon, and provide critical habitat for species – many of which are at risk. Close to $100 million will be available for a new fund to support in nature-based climate projects on Canadian farms. In addition to climate and ecosystem benefits, this funding should also create good nature jobs and many community benefits like recreation space and cleaner water.
But we must also invest to protect
Restoring nature to fight climate change is an important step. However, it’s also critical that we protect the ecosystems we have left. Fighting the biodiversity crisis alongside the climate crisis means we not only have to restore nature, we must also protect it. Missing from yesterday’s fall economic statement were investments to meet commitments to create protected areas across Canada, on land and freshwater, as well as in the ocean. This will be crucial to see in the 2021 federal budget.
Canada’s commitments to protecting 25% of land, freshwater, and ocean by 2025 and then 30% by 2030 remain mission-critical. Habitat loss is the number one reason why we’re losing species at a catastrophic rate in Canada and around the world. One of the best steps we can take is to protect key ecosystem before it’s too late. And we must invest to succeed in meeting the targets.
Protected areas are created through partnerships with Indigenous communities, provinces, territories, and local governments. In fact, many Indigenous governments have proposed Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) in their territories. But partnerships take time and need resources. Protected areas cannot be created overnight. If we fail to invest starting in Budget 2021, the 2025 target is at risk of becoming another missed environmental objective.
Nature Canada, along with our members and supporters, has been calling for the government to invest $4.8 billion over the next 5 years to create new protected areas, including IPCAs and creating nature jobs through Indigenous Guardians Programs. Building off positive momentum from the fall economic statement, we must continue to show Minister Freeland that nature-based recovery measures benefit us all.
If the journey to protect nature in Canada has many thousand kilometres to go, Minister Freeland yesterday took a bold leap. It’s up to us to ensure the government takes the next steps to permanently protect the nature we have left and fulfill Canada’s historic nature commitments.