Nature Canada

Will 2021 Be a Turnaround Year for Biodiversity? Canada Needs a New Comprehensive Strategy

Canada and the world face a biodiversity crisis as well as a climate emergency. In 2019, the United Nations warned us that nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history.

Since 1970 in Canada: Over half of vertebrate species have declined by 83% or more 68% decline in overall vertebrate population sizes. Half of insect-eating birds, grassland birds, and shorebirds have been lost. — 2020 World Wildlife Fund Canada report

But there is hope that 2021 will be a turn-around year for global biodiversity

A new Global Biodiversity Framework—the equivalent of the Paris Climate Accord but for species and ecosystem loss—is expected to be completed by the United Nations this fall. Canada and Uganda are co-chairing negotiations for the Framework, which will require greater ambition from signatories to protect biodiversity. 

But Canada has a history of signing the right papers and not following through. We led the world in 1992 by signing the Convention on Biological Diversity first but have since lagged in implementation. The 1995 Canada Biodiversity Strategy is outdated and largely unimplemented; and the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada approved by federal, provincial and territorial governments in 2015 have largely not been met. 

Canada’s federal biodiversity laws are outdated or otherwise ineffective

A recent study in the June 2021 science journal Facets, by Dr. Justina Ray and co-authors, examines Canadian laws and policies as a measure of how well Canada has implemented the Convention on Biological Diversity and other national commitments such as the 1995 Strategy, the 1996 National Accord for Species at Risk, the 2015 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada, and the 2016 Pathway to Canada Target 1. The study found a bewildering array of instruments relevant to biodiversity management and protection at different levels of government. As well, biodiversity data and inventories were found to be fragmented and biodiversity knowledge not well-integrated or easily accessible to Canadians. 

The 2002 Species at Risk Act (SARA) has nurtured good biodiversity science and planning but has had a small impact in actually recovering species on the ground. The 1917 Migratory Birds Convention Act establishes migratory bird sanctuaries ill-suited to addressing current threats such as bird habitat loss and incidental endangerment. The 1985 Canada Wildlife Act fails to link national wildlife areas to Canada’s biodiversity obligations or provide for flexible mechanisms for collaboration with provinces and Indigenous governments. The 1930 Canada National Parks Act was improved in 2000 but does not provide a legislative framework for collaborative park management with Indigenous communities. 

There are some great examples for Canadian governments to follow both internationally and here at home. For example, the European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy released in 2020, aims to make biodiversity considerations an integral part of the EU’s overall economic growth strategy. The vision underlying the EU strategy is to ensure the world’s ecosystems are restored, resilient and adequately protected by 2050. This vision is gaining momentum internationally.  

In Canada, Nova Scotia has shown leadership, enacting Canada’s first biodiversity conservation law in April 2021. The Biodiversity Act goes beyond basic protections for species at risk and park-based conservation recognizing that biodiversity protection more broadly must “maintain and restore the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems, ensuring healthy ecosystems and the provision of ecosystem goods and services”.

The Biodiversity Act authorizes the Minister of Lands and Forestry to establish Biodiversity Management Zones on public lands with the approval of the Nova Scotia cabinet, and the cabinet may make regulations “respecting activities necessary to fulfil the objectives of a biodiversity management zone”. The success of the law will depend on the implementation of these provisions and the extent to which the Act’s regulation-making authorities are used.

Here is the question: will other provinces and the federal government follow the lead of the European Union and Nova Scotia? It’s clear that Canada’s response to the biodiversity crisis needs a spur to action. We hope that the Global Biodiversity Framework negotiations in October will be the kickstart that’s needed.

Canada needs a comprehensive biodiversity strategy. It must address commitments to Indigenous Peoples, include proposals for legislative reform, and lay out a path to reverse biodiversity loss by meeting Canada’s commitments under the Global Biodiversity Framework while pursuing a vision that seeks a complete recovery of the world’s ecosystems by 2050. 

Related Links and Sources

Congratulations to East Coast Environmental Law (ECEL) and Ecology Action Centre for their advocacy leading to passage of Nova Scotia’s Biodiversity Act. See ECEL’s blogs at 

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