Episode 3
December 20th 2022

A Fight For Nature

Read the transcript

Episode 3 HOT POLITICS – A Fight For Nature

David McKie: This is hot politics. I'm David Mackie. Welcome to episode three, fighting for nature. Two major climate conferences in the past month tried to make a big leap in stopping global warming and saving nature. In November's COP27 in Egypt, negotiators went down to the last minute, but there was an agreement to create what's called a loss and damage fund. This will be used to help developing countries who don't contribute much to the Earth's warming but are hit hard by climate disasters. A major flaw in the agreement, the amount of money pledged by a handful of nations, including Canada, is nowhere near the $100 billion that's needed. So, as usual, the devil is in the details. COP15, the conference of biodiversity, has entered. It was jointly hosted by China and Canada. Part one took place in China last fall but COVID restrictions in that country threatened to force the cancellation of part two. Canada stopped up as the host, so the possibility of an agreement could not be delayed. COP15's main goal was to protect and restore nature and stop the extinction of species. But biodiversity didn't attract the star power of world leaders. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only leader at the opening ceremonies.

Justin Trudeau: I don't have to tell any of you here this afternoon that nature is under threat. In fact, it's under attack.

David McKie: The prime minister had barely begun when he was faced with a group of young people from Tla-Amin First Nation in British Columbia. They were calling for indigenous people to be part of a biodiversity agreement, a demand that would come up over and over again at the conference. The Prime Minister waited patiently for the protesters to finish before continuing.

Justin Trudeau: We're gathered today because this isn't work we or any one country can do alone. The world's five biggest countries, Russia, Canada and China, the two countries involved in hosting this meeting, the US and Brazil represent over 50% of the world's forests. Canada has the world's longest coastline. Russia has the world's largest boreal forest, and the world's largest wetland, the Putana, is primarily in Brazil. That's a big responsibility for big countries. And progress is being made no doubt. But of the world's five biggest countries, none of us is yet at 30% of both our land and waters protected. Now, we don't have to get all the way there by tomorrow, but by 2030, we all really do. By 2030, we must halt and reverse biodiversity loss. Now there are lots of disagreements between governments. But if we can't agree, as a world, on something as fundamental as protecting nature, well, nothing else matters.

David McKie: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres laid out what's at stake.

Antonio Guterres: Prime Minister Trudeau, excellencies, dear friends, nature is humanity's best friend. Without nature. We have nothing, without nature, we are nothing. Nature is our life support system. It is the source and sustainer of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the energy we use, the jobs and the economic activity we count on, the species that enrich human life, and the landscapes and waterscapes we call home.

David McKie: As he did at COP 27, The Secretary-General gave a scathing assessment of our role in destroying the things that keep us alive.

Antonio Guterres: And yet, humanity seems hell-bent on destruction. We are waging war on nature. This conference is about the urgent task of making peace because today we are out of harmony with nature. And when we clear targets, benchmarks and accountability, no excuses, no delays, promises made must be promises captains.

David McKie: We're in a cavernous media room at COP15 in Montreal's Place de Congres, where reporters had been attending news conferences, filing stories, chasing down sources. National observer reporter Natasha Bulowski joins me now. Natasha, I think we know that nature is under siege, and that's a bad thing because nature plays a vital role in fighting climate change. And according to Antonio Guterres, it is worse than that. We're at war with nature, and we need to make peace. So how is the world going to use this conference to make peace with nature?

Natasha Bulowski: Well, I mean accelerating biodiversity loss, it poses an existential threat to humanity. And scientists broadly agree that we need to protect at least 30% of the Earth's land and waters by 2030. And so this 30 by 30 goal is said to be really the cornerstone of a strong global biodiversity framework, which will essentially guide global action on halting and reversing nature loss by 2030. Also, on the agenda, you know, is ending subsidies that harm nature. So things like fossil fuel subsidies, unsustainable fishing, agriculture. And then there's some more complicated but still thorny issues around making sure countries are adequately compensated for discoveries, maybe pharmaceutical, that are based on genetic resources found within their borders. But really, one of the you know, the titular issue is the 30 by 30 target.

David McKie: So what needs to be done to reach that?

Natasha Bulowski: There's lots of momentum around the 30 by 30 goal, especially from Canada. As a host country, we've committed to achieving that within our own borders. And we've really been building our conservation efforts around Indigenous Protected and conserved areas, which has garnered us some praise, but there are very real concerns at the international level about whether indigenous rights will be respected as countries pursued 30 by 30. There's also some issues remaining around how countries will be able to fund that especially poor countries who have incredible amounts of biodiversity within their borders.

David McKie: So although many ministers, commissioners, and activists on the climate and environment scene attended, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood out as the only world leader at the conference. Does it really matter whether leaders show up?

Natasha Bulowski: I think it depends who you ask, really. Part of the fuss around world leaders being or not being here is because at the recent climate conference in Egypt, COP 27, more than a hundred heads of state, including US President Joe Biden, attended at some point or another and you know, environmental organisations, they've been saying that China's decision to not invite world leaders to Montreal downplays COP 15 is important. And you know, when we're leaders get involved, people pay attention, it does make news. So in raising the profile, I see that argument. On the other end, though, like in November, some ex-heads of state published a letter that similarly argued that from their experience in these situations, at high-stakes negotiations, that it is important for leaders to be there. But then Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said that because leaders aren't in the building, it doesn't mean that delegates won't be in constant contact with them in order to reach those agreements. Also, a factor I think is that this conference was really thrown together with only five or so months' notice, so perhaps that's a factor.

David McKie: Okay, standby, Natasha, we'll come back to you in a little while to wrap things up.

Natasha Bulowski: Sounds good, David.

David McKie: Last week, Canada and the European Union sat down with me during the conference to talk about the projects they're collaborating on to support nature. The live recorded discussion was a collaboration between Canada's National Observer and the Delegation of the European Union to Canada. I was joined by Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, and Canada's Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault. I began the conversation by asking Guilbeault about the nature of the collaboration between Canada and the European Union.

Steven Guilbeault: As an environmental activist, I was such a big fan of the European Union. In international forums they've been a positive force for change, pushing the envelope, pushing countries to do more and frankly, when countries started realising that it wouldn't be able to hold it in China and the Chinese in fact, said, we don't think we can do it this year, the commissioner was one of the first one to say, 'Okay, well, maybe what about doing it in Canada?'

Virginijus Sinkevičius: We are facing, you know, the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution that cannot be tackled by a city, by a country and even by region. It's always great to meet Minister, first time we met in a G7 in Berlin and already then we spoke about those like minded ideas on which we can build our partnership across the Atlantic Ocean.

David McKie: I want to stay with you, Minister. What can you accomplish together that you couldn't do on your own?

Steven Guilbeault: As the commissioner said, climate change, nature laws fighting pollution, these are issues that are too big for any single country and I'm having similar conversation with China. China's the largest emitter of greenhouse gas and the world's second largest economy. They can't do it on their own and we need to be able to work together, we need to find solutions to complicated and complex problems. But in a way, I suppose in a good way, we are condemned to be able to find solutions together because these problems are just too big for any single country or region, as the commissioner said, to tackle on its own.

Virginijus Sinkevičius: In many of those areas that we seek to protect the most biodiverse places on earth, we still have, you know, indigenous people living and they have to be also part of the solution. But you know, the work doesn't end at COP 15. I hope that we will be able to achieve and walk out of the room just before Christmas with an ambitious agreement.

David McKie: So, how do Canadians benefit from this partnership?

Steven Guilbeault: In so many different ways. The European Union tends to be at the forefront of environmental regulations on so many different things. And often, when people want to see how can we do better in Canada, we look at what Europe is doing and say, 'Oh, they're doing this, you know, we should be doing that'. I mean, you've had a price on pollution in the European Union since middle of the 2000s. We've had a price pollution in Canada which started in 2019. So we are playing catch up. I mean, I said earlier as an environmental activist, they were an inspiration. They're still an inspiration. So many of the things that they do are groundbreaking and help not just us in Canada, but many other countries around the world see what can be done in terms of environmental legislation, environmental regulation, investment in clean technologies.

David McKie: I wanted to circle back to the European Green Deal. How do 27 Union countries get together? I mean, we, in our federation, you Minister would know about this, provinces and territories, getting everyone together, singing from the same proverbial hymn book is a challenge. How did you pull it off?

Virginijus Sinkevičius: It's not always the easiest process, but then, of course, I'm extremely proud of the 50, 55, it's a legal obligation to reach the goal of CO2 emissions decreased by 55% by 2030. Of course, you have to always realise that member states they come with a different perspectives, with different backgrounds, with the different stages of economic development, and so on. So of course, all this has to be addressed. What is not going to fly is always, you know, that sort of one size fits all approach. We still have a few regions that are coal dependent. So for them, it's not only a challenge to change the energy mix, you have a massive amount of people who work in those industries who do not really imagine doing anything else than work in the coal power plant. And they did that for generations. And they enjoy it, you know, cheap electricity, cheap heating in their housing, and so how to turn that around? So, you have to, you know, put a sufficient plan for those countries that they could execute and of course to have the citizens on board. I think the the story here, that's most important, is for people to feel that they are part of this transition. This transition has to be just and has to have everyone on board. But I'm very proud, in 2019, that was the first policy to land and it's it wasn't easy.

David McKie: What are the lessons learned for Canada in this?

Steven Guilbeault: Well, in some ways, on a smaller scale, there's only 38 millions of us here in Canada, but the challenges are the same. We are in the process of phasing out coal from our electricity mix. We we've legislated to do that by 2030 in certain parts of our country and certain regions, coal represents 60% of the economic activities and employment in that region. So you can't just say 'okay, well, we're out of coal and tough luck.' As the commissioner says, you have to do this in a through a just transition. And so we we're doing it with coal, we have to do that with oil and gas because we know that our consumption of oil and gas will be going down. If you look at the International Energy Agency's report, the IPCC report, oil consumption will go down by 2050 by at least 70%. So we have to prepare for that. Otherwise, those regions, those people, those communities will be very affected if we don't prepare to transition.

David McKie: We're at COP15. Why does this matter to people? Why is this so important?

Virginijus Sinkevičius: Want me to begin?

David McKie: Yeah.

Steven Guilbeault: They hear from me all the time.

Virginijus Sinkevičius: First of all, of course, it's always, I think for human beings overall, it's always very difficult to take something what's given what's free, and nature is free for us. And we never think about it unless maybe you are a farmer who sees that your yields are going down due to drought or you are a fisherman or a forester seeing that something is changing. And it's exactly not there anymore for you. So, you know, very simple, you know, World Economic Forum encountered that 50% of our world's GDP is dependent on nature. If you look at Europe, 80% of our crop yields are dependent on pollination. Very simple, just the bees and insects, 80%. If it's gone, there is no technology to replace it, and we would have a massive issue of food insecurity, of social insecurity, with farmers being basically out of the possibility to work and make living and so on. Therefore, we are here, I'm very thankful again to minister and Canada for hosting it. And I truly hope, that as I said, before Christmas, we will have the best possible use for our planet and for our people.

David McKie: That's just a portion of the conversation between Canada's Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and his EU counterpart, Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius. If you want to hear the full conversation, go to our website nationalobserver.com and click on conversations. After the panel discussion, we were able to squeeze in a few extra minutes with Minister Guilbeault about the announcements made at COP 15 related to indigenous lands and for indigenous groups.

Steven Guilbeault: For Canada, there's no path to us protecting at least 30% of our lands and waters without the involvement of indigenous people from the getgo at the decision making table, which is why the Prime Minister and I announced this historic investment of $800 million in four indigenous land conservation projects. They're very large, like we're talking about 1 million square kilometre of protected lands and in Canad. I don't think people realise sometimes what a challenge it is for Canada to protect 30% of our lands. It is the equivalent of protecting the entirety of the lands of the European Union and its 27 Member States. That's what we're trying to do in Canada. But for us to do that, we need to do it with indigenous people. The Government of Canada is working really hard to change the nature of our relationship with indigenous people. We see conservation as one of the elements, and I'd say a necessary element, of reconciliation, the indigenous.

David McKie: The Indigenous Network. Talk a little bit about that. What is that?

Steven Guilbeault: That is probably one of the most amazing programs that the federal government has ever done. And frankly, we don't deserve credit because it's not, it wasn't our idea. It was indigenous peoples' ideas and we just embraced it. It's a very unique program where it's not Ottawa-knows-best and we'll tell you what to do. It's a program where indigenous people, communities, indigenous nations come to us and say this is what we want to be supported in our community. So we started with a pilot project of $27 million. We're now close to $200 million for the Guardians Program. We made an announcement last week that we were going to fund a national network of indigenous guardians initiatives so that they can learn from each other.

David McKie: But there's also a balancing act here, right? You know, some indigenous groups might argue that they should have veto power over these kinds of decisions. Where does that balance come in between giving Indigenous peoples the right to control but as a government saying, well, sometimes you can't just say no?

Steven Guilbeault: It's not about giving anyone of veto power. But I think it's about ensuring that when we develop new policies, when we're thinking about new projects, we've reformed impact assessment in Canada to ensure that we do true indigenous consultations, that we include indigenous knowledge and the scientific body that we use for decision making. Now, at the federal level, its not about them having veto over anything but it's having real government to government to government discussions and decision making with them.

David McKie: Later, I caught up with Green Party leader Elizabeth May at a news conference at the COP 15 venue. We spoke to the environment Minister and his EU counterpart this morning who said that they were optimistic that there would be a successful resolution. What is your assessment of what that resolution will look like and whether or not it will be a success?

Elizabeth May: David, I have to say... this has to succeed. We've never had this large biodiversity cup ever since the first ones in the 90s. And this one being in Montreal, I say the positive sign is that from everything we can see, our Minister Steven Guilbeault and the Chinese presidency are working well together. There's goodwill between Canada and China at the working level here despite all the other geopolitical stresses, but without financing I don't see a deal.

David McKie: About 500 people representing indigenous nations or organisations came from all over the world to attend the meeting. But none of the indigenous nations were at the table. So they were left to hold news conferences and take part in discussion groups. And as the days went by, it was very clear that their concerns we're not getting through to the negotiators. Here are some of the voices from a news conference held by indigenous peoples from Canada, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. Some of the voices are heard through a translator.

Ellen Gabriel: This is about land back for centuries, Indigenous peoples have been squeezed into smaller and smaller pieces of land. And yet those pieces of land are still being taken and stolen from us. What land back means to us is the freedom. It's democracy. It's our voices being heard.

Molly Wiekam: We have to have, you know, a specific language around getting out of our way so we can do the work that our ancestors have been doing for 1000s of years that we already know how to do.

Ellen Gabriel: And we demand that Indigenous peoples have the full and effective participation of any decision making process at all UN meetings and fora using the principles of free prior and informed consent, s stated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and international human rights norms. There is no time to wait for targets as action is needed now.

Domingo Peas Nampich Kai: I agree with my sister here. For example, in Ecuador, we have a really powerful law in the Constitution around the rights of nature. But these laws are not being implemented. What's missing is action and I call on everyone to say that it's not a moment to fight, it's a moment to unite. It's a moment to work together in a joint force for the well being and common interests of all.

David McKie: National Observer reporter Matteo Cimellaro similarily was talking with some of the indigenous delegates. He joins me now. Those voices we heard, they had lot to say about how governments have ignored their concerns when it comes to conservation and protection of nature. What role do indigenous communities play in conserving the environment?

Matteo Cimellaro: Indigenous peoples have known for millennia that nature and human beings are not separate. You know, they're part of the same ecosystem. They're part of the same natural world. And so indigenous land management, it's a natural process, you know, it's not like conservation is humans letting nature do whatever, indigenous peoples know that that's simply wrong and then you're gonna run into a lot of problems with that. So, when we speak about conservation, we need to be speaking about indigenous rights. And that's what I've been hearing talking to indigenous peoples. They're worried that 30 by 30, without respecting indigenous rights will remove them from the land.

David McKie: So when you hear all that, that's really important, Matteo, and I'm just wondering, were indigenous organisations part of the negotiations for a biodiversity agreement?

Matteo Cimellaro: But in terms of these kinds of high-level negotiations, no, there's no seat at the table. There's no voting power. There's no veto power. But it's getting better. There is consultation between delegates or between countries and indigenous peoples, you know, in those countries. And it's getting better also because indigenous peoples are organising, I mean, the indigenous contingents globally are in solidarity with each other. They're organising there, they have their elbows up, and they're trying to get a seat at the table.

David McKie: So given what you've just said, Matteo, I guess what I think about is UNDRIP. And UNDRIP, of course, is the acronym that means the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was adopted by the UN in 20 7. It lays out government's relationships to indigenous peoples. And a key element is the requirement to consult on issues of importance to indigenous peoples. More than 145 countries have signed UNDRIP. Given this right, should indigenous representatives have been at the table?

Matteo Cimellaro: You know, that's a great question. And of course, I mean, of course, they should, you know, obviously, logistically, you might have some arguments. Well, there's so many indigenous nations, how can you expand that? But I think we also have to remember, you know, what happened back in 2007. And who voted against UNDRIP. Four countries, United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada voted against UNDRIP. Fast forward, and now Canada has enshrined the United Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples in law, but that law still does not have a veto power, it is just the obligation to consult. So there's still not equal shared decision making on the nation and nation level. The only thing that's pushing this conversation forward is indigenous solidarity. Its global indigenous peoples, organising, sharing experiences and practices on how to manage and how to push their states for their rights. Me being here for a number of days and having many conversations with global indigenous peoples and that's the sense you know, it's each year indigenous peoples are pushing for greater say, a greater voice, greater power at these international bodies, because they know that these international bodies set the standards globally. And so when their voices, when their rights, when their lands are included, nations need to pay attention.

David McKie: National Observer reporter Natasha Bulowski joins us again. Natasha, you know, there's sometimes an accusation that these conferences they never accomplished enough, right, that their promises are too vague. There's no one to hold countries to account for promises. So how would you evaluate what happened here?

Natasha Bulowski: Well, I think that's both an easy and a fair accusation to make considering the gravity of both the biodiversity and climate crisis. You know, it poses such a threat to all of us, we need so much action and so quickly in order to ensure that we have a livable planet, and anything less is really a death sentence for a lot of life on Earth. Some scientists, you know, they're warning that we're on the brink of another mass extinction event, the last one being some 65 million years ago when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. You know, the pessimism around these international agreements and forums is understandable given what we're up against. They leave a lot to be desired always. But that's how you start moving the political lever. There are also other levers to pull, indigenous people, civil society groups, and scientists are working tirelessly to push for that accountability piece that as you note is so often missing or vague.

David McKie: So, really, it's managing expectations, right? You can never really win. Some people think that you're going too fast, other people, you're not fast enough because so much is at stake.

Natasha Bulowski: Yeah, there's some truth to that. And some people will say, you know, perfect is the enemy of good and I think that we shouldn't let that limit what we're pushing for. And I think that's the role that some of those other groups, you know, civil society and indigenous people are playing is they're making sure that we're not just settling for good and that we're striving as much as always for perfect. It's complicated getting all of these countries on the same page. And so, managing expectations is a fair way to put it. And I think people sort of see the results of that with this agreement.

David McKie: Natasha and Matteo, thank you very much. I know you've worked really hard at this conference. There are a lot of moving parts and you guys have done a great job. Thanks a lot.

Natasha Bulowski: Thanks a lot, David.

Matteo Cimellaro: Yeah, thanks for having me, David.

David McKie: Delegates with COP 15 reached what many are calling a historic agreement during the wee hours of Monday morning. Based on what we were hearing on the weekend, there were no surprises. There's the requirements for countries to conserve 30% of nature by 2030, the so-called 30 by 30 target. And there was a recognition that respecting and recognising the rights of indigenous peoples and reaching that target is key. Finally, there was money on the table to help make all of this happen, 10s of billions of dollars from wealthy countries like Canada to help the conservation efforts of developing countries. Early reaction from a number of environmental groups is positive so we'll see where all of this goes. But as we know, the devil is in the details. That's it for the third episode of Hot politics. I'm David Mackay.

Just a reminder that we need your help to continue our podcasts. Every donation helps. Please rate us a five on Apple. Tell your friends. We want everyone to find us. Hot Politics is produced by Canada’s National Observer. Our Managing Producer for podcasts is Sandra Bartlett. The Associate producer is Zahra Khozema. The Executive Editor of Canada’s National Observer is Karen Pugliese. Our publisher is Linda Solomon Wood. I’m David McKie.

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Top officials from more than 190 countries gathered in Montreal this month to solve one of the world’s most pressing challenges: the rapid decline of wildlife and ecosystems that provide us with benefits like clean air, water and crop pollination. In today's episode, we bring you our reporters who were at the centre of all the action and insights from key environmental leaders like Steven Guilbeault, Canada's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, who also happens to be hosting this biodiversity conference. We explore why this meeting, known as COP15, is important, who is and isn't putting in the fight, and what this new agreement can mean for our planet.

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