Environment and Climate Change Canada needs to show more leadership to guide the country toward meeting its national biodiversity targets, a new report from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development argues.

“Environment and Climate Change Canada has focused its leadership efforts on attending international meetings on behalf of Canada, but did not coordinate actions with its federal, provincial, and territorial partners to achieve the 2020 biodiversity goals,” Commissioner Julie Gelfand said in a press release that accompanied three audits tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Canada announced 19 biodiversity targets in 2015, which fall under four goals to be met by 2020.

In the audit, Gelfand’s team highlighted the importance of biodiversity for “the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for food and fresh water, health and recreation, and protection from natural disasters. Biodiversity is at risk nationally and globally.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, species populations in Canada have been on the decline since 1970, with faster rates of decline between 2002 and 2014.

Megan Leslie, the new president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, described the audit as the most recent in a series of reports that show Canada needs "a new approach to preventing biodiversity loss."

"We need the federal government to take meaningful steps that reverse the decline of wildlife in Canada: This must be the measure of success," Leslie said in a statement sent to National Observer. "Wildlife loss has been a problem for decades, and as today’s report reflects, better work must be done to get Canada on track."

In its response to the audit, Environment and Climate Change Canada agreed it needed to work with other departments and agencies to achieve biodiversity targets, and it agreed to publicly share its progress on the 2020 goals.

On Tuesday afternoon, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna pointed to a 2018 budget investment of $1.3 billion to protect biodiversity, which includes protecting species at risk and creating new parks and protected areas.

“After 10 years of inaction by the previous government, we’re absolutely all-in. This is a huge opportunity for Canada. We also know the links between climate change and impacts on species at risk,” McKenna told reporters on Parliament Hill.

species in decline, office of the auditor general, species at risk, biodiversity
A graphic from an audit released on April 24, 2018 shows the decline of different species in Canada in recent decades. Screenshot from audit by federal environment commissioner

‘History shows a track record of missed targets and commitments’

In her accompanying “Commissioner’s Perspective,” Gelfand discussed her team’s findings across the three audits tabled Tuesday, including Canada’s performance on biodiversity conservation, a report on salmon fishing, and a report showing Canada is on track to miss its commitment to sustainable development targets set in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.

The 2030 Agenda includes big goals, from protecting the environment to eradicating global poverty and reducing inequality. By November 2017, the federal government did not have a formal approach to meeting the goals, and the commissioner’s team found they need to set targets.

In her report, Gelfand noted it had been three years since Canada signed on to the 2030 Agenda and it still doesn’t have a “whole of government approach.” Instead, five departments — Employment and Social Development Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Global Affairs Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and Status of Women Canada — are expected to coordinate.

“In my opinion, it is difficult to make progress with 10 hands on the wheel. … Without a clear leader, an implementation plan, and accurate and ongoing measurement and monitoring of results, Canada will not be able to fulfill the commitments it made to its citizens, and to the United Nations.”

Gelfand also noted it is not the first audit to show a lack of preparation to deliver on international commitments.

“History shows a track record of missed targets and commitments going back several decades. The federal government committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda three years ago, but again, it is not ready to respect its international commitment. When will it be ready?”

Editor's note: This story was updated at 2:15 p.m. EST on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, with new comments from Catherine McKenna and from the commissioner's reports. The spelling of the minister's first name was corrected at 2:39 p.m. EST the same day. The story was updated again at 4:31 p.m. EST with comments from Megan Leslie.

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