On Thursday, Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault tabled the nature accountability bill in the House of Commons. The bill enshrines Canada’s nature and biodiversity commitments and provides steps, reporting requirements and the information needed for course correction.

Indigenous knowledge and rights, legislated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, will also have to be considered.

Alongside the tabled legislation, Environment and Climate Change Canada unveiled its 180-page 2030 nature strategy, providing a roadmap to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in Canada — a state of affairs that Elizabeth Hendricks, VP of restoration at WWF Canada, calls “the sixth extinction period of the natural history of the world.”

The international community is referring to it as the global biodiversity crisis, linked to both human industrial activity and human-caused climate change, in which a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades.

It’s the worst biodiversity crisis in human history — and it’s why the world came together at the end of 2022 in Montreal to pen the Kunming-Montreal agreement. That agreement, known formally as the Global Biodiversity Framework, sets targets for countries to ensure that 30 per cent of the world’s land and waters will be protected while enshrining Indigenous rights.

Indigenous Peoples pushed hard for greater inclusion at the table during negotiations. For their efforts, language around Indigenous knowledge and rights was written into the agreement, but sovereign Indigenous territories were not established as a distinct category of conservation. It’s left Indigenous Peoples worried that their lands can be stolen in the guise of conservation, as has happened historically in Canada.

A roadmap for Canada’s biodiversity crisis

The language of the act reveals its nature: rather than a firm set of new rules, it’s intended to be “a promise and a map,” Hendricks said, “which was a pretty honest assessment of what they were able to do in the diversity act.”

Julia LaForge, policy and campaign manager of protected areas for Nature Canada, is concerned about the weight the act will hold in enshrining the target of the global biodiversity framework.

The language of the act reveals its nature: rather than a firm set of new rules, it’s intended to be “a promise and a map,” Hendricks said, “which was a pretty honest assessment of what they were able to do in the diversity act.”
Julia LaForge, Policy and Campaign Manager of Protected Areas for Nature Canada. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / Canada's National Observer

For LaForge, the Act failed to legislate the 22 targets of the global biodiversity framework, which she sees as giving the Act weight — relying instead on “naming and shaming” forms of accountability.

Hendricks notes that the Act and strategy was released on an off-budget cycle, meaning it was part of the spending rollout the Liberals announced earlier in the year.

However, Ottawa has committed $600 million, announced last year, for conservation and $1.5 billion was announced at COP15 two years ago.

“We're in the process of investing $5 billion in conservation, which is something we've never seen in the history of this country,” Guilbeault told reporters on Thursday after tabling the legislation.

But LaForge wants to see more funding go towards recommendations delivered by the NGO community — for example, more stable, long-lasting funding for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and land guardians.

A low bar to rise above

For Oscar Soria, CEO of the environmental and financial think tank Common, protecting 30 per cent of Canada’s lands and waters is a low bar, given Canadian ecosystems' ecological and carbon importance to the world.

Still, Soria celebrates Canadian leadership as the second country to bring forward biodiversity accountability legislation after Chile. But it’s not a high political bar to reach: in most countries, there is a “desert of action” on biodiversity agreement, Soria said.

For example, the European Union is clawing back aspects of their recent conservation bill, Hendricks noted. The United States also opposed adding biodiversity to the G7 communiqué, Soria said, while refusing to sign the Global Biodiversity Framework.

“Canada is far more advanced than many countries in the world because they have put together a plan and money,” Soria added, painting a bleak picture ahead of COP16, which will take place in a few months in Columbia. But that’s only “if we compare with other kids in the class — but let's agree that all the kids in the class, well, we’re very lazy,” he said.

However, Soria points to Canada’s era of reconciliation, which he calls a “paradigm shift” for much of the world’s nation-states when it comes to Indigenous affairs and their nation-to-nation relationships.

Indigenous Peoples have been repeatedly held up as essential to reversing the biodiversity crisis and, worldwide, steward around 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity.

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative