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Nova Scotia

As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal on Wednesday when asked if Canada will meet its goal of protecting a quarter of all of Canada’s land and oceans by 2025.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal on Wednesday when asked if Canada will meet its goal of protecting a quarter of all of Canada’s land and oceans by 2025.

“I’m pleased to say that we will meet our 25 by 25 goal,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable with journalists on the sidelines of Nature Talks in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometers of land, is just the halfway point on the way to saving 30 percent by 2030 – the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the protection of land or water actually mean?

“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions in broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, director of forest and land at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area” used by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity refers to a “well-defined geographical area” managed by law or regulation with the aim of protecting nature over the long term.

“It can range from areas of very strict protection to areas that are being protected or conserved,” Saint-Laurent said.

“We need to look at this entire suite of protection and restoration actions to not only save nature, but to do it in a way that helps our societies. There is no one magic formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which maintains its own global “green list” of protected areas, lists 17 criteria by which areas can meet the definition.

Most of the criteria focus on how the sites are managed and protected. Resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism are permitted so long as they are compatible with and support the conservation objectives outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that is not always the case in Canada, especially when it comes to the rights of indigenous peoples on their ancestral lands.

Mining and logging are permitted in some provincial parks. In Algonquin Park in Ontario, for example, about two-thirds of the park area is allowed to be deforested.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometers of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometers of marine land.

As of December 2021, Canada had received 13.5 percent of the land and almost 14 percent of the sea area. The government did this through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine sanctuaries, marine sanctuaries and so-called “other effective area-based conservation measures.”

This may include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitat, or public or private lands where conservation is not a priority but is occurring nonetheless.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, Manitoba includes approximately 211 square kilometers of natural habitats that are being maintained under a Department of Defense conservation plan.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a not-for-profit organization that raises funds to purchase land from private owners for long-term conservation.

Ontario Region Vice President Mike Hendren said management plans in such areas can include everything from nature trails to hunting – but always with conservation as a priority.

To achieve “25 by 25,” Canada must continue to protect more than 1.2 million square kilometers of land, or about the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined. To get to 30 percent, you have to add land almost the size of Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect an additional 638,000 square kilometers of ocean and coastline by 2025, or an area nearly three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Another area the size of the Gulf would have to be added by 2030.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be a distinction between areas where no activity is allowed to take place and places where one can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s an opportunity to have some kind of management plan that’s informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by different communities and it says, ‘Yes, we’re going to protect this area, and that means, no, it won’t indefinitely its irresponsible mining will happen,'” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain projects in certain places that might be the right thing or the right thing to move forward.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what type of land and sea areas are eligible or what their conservation would mean in concrete terms.

She currently suggests that a significant portion of protected land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 9, 2022.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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