Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Nature Champions Summit and Canada's Biodiversity Conservation Efforts

The Nature Champions Summit (NCS) will take place on April 24-25, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The goal of the NCS is to build a high-ambition coalition to advance global nature protection. This event explores nature conservation efforts and focuses on strategies for mitigating biodiversity loss and maintaining crucial carbon stores. It will address on-the-ground solutions to make biodiversity healthier and more resilient. The summit will specifically highlight Indigenous leadership and the role of various levels of government to forge a new biodiversity conservation agenda.

NCS is being convened by Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. A March 14th, government of Canada press release announcing NCS points to the growing awareness that we need to do more to protect biodiversity. Canada is second largest nation in the world it is also the country with the largest coastline. The nation's vast forests, massive lakes and long rivers are sewn into the fabric of Canada's national identity.  Through legislation and regulation Canada is working to honor its biodiversity conservation treaty commitments, including the Aichi 2020 targets.

NCS will bring together philanthropists, business leaders, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies, Indigenous leaders and environment ministers from around the world. Participants will showcase commitments and develop new partnerships for advancing nature protection.

This event is the first in a series of multilateral meetings focused on building momentum towards 2020, when leaders will come together for the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in China. Nature protection will be a central theme of the forthcoming G7 meeting in France.

Key Themes of the NCS

  • Identifying and overcoming barriers to nature protection
  • Indigenous partnerships and incorporating Indigenous wisdom in stewardship activities
  • The intersection of nature, oceans and climate change
  • Innovative financing for nature-based solutions

Carbon storage

Canada's wilderness is not only a place of natural beauty it is also a vast carbon sink. Canadian Carbon storage banks are one of the nation's most significant biodiversity features. Over thousands of years Canadian peatlands, soils, permafrost and trees have stored more than 200 billion tonnes of carbon. This is the equivalent of up to 36 years’ worth of global carbon emissions. The release of sequestered carbon in peatlands and permafrost are serious tipping points that could end any hope of keeping temperatures below the prescribed upper threshold limit of 2.0 Celsius.

Existing strategies in Canada

Protected areas is one of the best strategies we have for conserving biodiversity. In 2013 Environment Canada defined protected areas as, "lands and waters where development and use is restricted by legal or other means for the conservation of nature."

The Alliance for Zero Extinction Sites (AZEs) is a joint NGO initiative that includes 76 members. AZE sites in Canada include efforts to protect the endangered Vancouver Island Marmot (less than 200 left in wild) and the endangered Whooping crane (about 431 left in wild)

Canada is also working on large scale conservation projects that focus on connectivity. This includes the Yukon to Yellowknife (Y to Y) a 1 300 000 km2 stretch of land. Another large transnational conservation project is the Algonquin to Adirondack (A to A)  which encompasesses 93,000 km2 in Ontario, Quebec, and New York. Other connectivity focused conservation projects include the Baja, California to the Bering Sea (B to B) and the Wildlands Network.

Species at risk

Canada's largely intact boreal region supports grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines. Canadian waterways contain healthy populations of salmon and trout and sturgeon. The country is also a temporary home to billions of migrating birds.

However, as in many other parts of the world a wide diversity of species are at risk in Canada. Some of the country’s most iconic animals are under threat. This includes mammals like bison, polar bears and caribou.

Indigenous governments

NCS is focused on the leadership of Indigenous governments and it is being held in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.  In Canada First Nations People play an increasingly important role complimenting science and enhancing Canada's conservation efforts. This is a stewardship vision that balances protection and development. NCS is a reflection of Canada's recognition of the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).

TEK is defined as, "a cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings … with one another and with their environment" (Berkes et al. 2000, p.1252).

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), recognizes traditional ecological knowledge and TEK is found in Article 8 (j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is also contained in Canadian legislation including the Fisheries act.

Canadian biodiversity preservation legislation


  • Canadian Wildlife Act (1985)
  • Plant Protection Act (1990)
  • Health of Animals act (1990)
  • Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA; 1992)
  • Migratory Bird Convention Act (1994)
  • National Marine Conservation Areas Act (2002)
  • Fisheries act (1985, 2012, 2018)
  • National Parks Act (2000)
  • Species at Risk Act (SARA, 2002) 
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (2012)


International biodiversity treaties that Canada is committed to


  • International Plant Protection Convention (1952)
  • International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2004)
  • Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (1975)
  • CITIES: Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Fora (1975)
  • CBD: Convention on Biological Diversity (1992)
  • NA Migratory Bird Treaty (1916)
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative (1998)


Canada's achievements

Through a combination of easements, covenants, servitudes, funding programs, as well as multilateral and bilateral efforts Canada has made progress in its efforts to protect land and conserve species. Canada has 39 national parks, 8 reserves, and 4 marine conservation areas. Under Ramsar Convention on Wetlands  Canada has protected 37 Wetlands of International Importance, comprising around 13 million ha, which is second in area only to Bolivia.

The Canadian federal government has invested over $1.3 billion over five years in biodiversity protection. Canada has made progress towards the Aichi 2020 Targets through its Pathway to Target 1 efforts. Thus far Canada has protected 7.75 percent of it's marine habitat which is close to the 10 percent Aichi target and 11 percent of terrestrial objectives. However, this is 6 points below the Aichi target of 17 percent.

Canada will nearly double protected areas by 2020 in order to reach the goals it is committed to under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Reaching that goal will be cause for celebration and NCS is a helpful part of the process.

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