“Transformative” Change Needed to Protect Biodiversity: B.C. Falling Short
The world needs “ambitious, systemic and sustained efforts to address the full range of direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity change.” We are well into a sixth mass extinction, with untold numbers of species each year permanently leaving the planet in what environmental historian and author Bathsheba Demuth poignantly refers to as “quiet, unsung extinctions.”
A new report by an expert panel of more than 50 researchers from 23 countries examined current global biodiversity conservation efforts and concludes that they will be insufficient to prevent continued mass extinctions by mid-century.
The report looked at the most recent round of biodiversity protection goals established by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Canada signed the CBD in 1992; the United States is still not a signatory.
For more content on this post, check out Episode 15 – Outdoor Narratives, Adventures, and Joy and Episode 17 – The HSUS Black Bear Petition of the Hunt To Eat Show.
2030 to 2050: Global Biodiversity Targets
As some background, at their 2011 meeting, parties to the CBD agreed to a set of targets for biodiversity protection, which is where we got the goals of protecting 17% of freshwater and terrestrial and 10% of marine areas by 2020. Most countries failed to achieve that goal.
The next round of targets, which we expect parties to finalize at their April 2022 meeting, is referred to as “The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF). The Global Biodiversity Framework contains two main sets of timelines:
- A set of four goals for the world to achieve by 2050
- A set of milestones and 21 action targets to work towards by 2030
Scientists have come to accept mid-century as a critical time – if we don’t act on global threats to biological and human well-being, like climate change, we will likely see catastrophic impacts by 2050. But that means we need to make dramatic strides on biodiversity protection by 2030. The Global Biodiversity Framework is built on four goals to achieve by 2050, which each contain milestones to measure progress in 2030. The action targets are actions that countries need to take immediately to work towards the 2030 milestones.
To summarize: That gives us action targets to work towards milestones to achieve by 2030 so that we can achieve goals by 2050.
I’ll give examples of two Goals from the Global Biodiversity Framework and two recent cases out of British Columbia that contextualize the current state of things.
Goal A: Ecosystems and Species
Goal A of the Global Biodiversity Framework focuses on the integrity and protection of ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity. The 2050 outcomes of Goal A include pieces such as increasing the area and connectivity of natural ecosystems by at least 15%, supporting healthy and resilient populations of species, reducing the rate of extinctions by at least tenfold, and ensuring the genetic diversity within species is maintained.
Within Goal A, there are three 2030 milestones, including, for example, halting and reversing the extinction rate and reducing extinction risk by at least 10% and decreasing the overall proportion of the planet’s species threatened with extinction.
When we talk about “30×30,” that really refers to one of the target actions of the Global Biodiversity Framework. Target 3 sets out the goal to protect at least 30% of global land and sea areas by 2030. Further, Target 3 says that protected areas should focus especially on “areas of particular importance for biodiversity and its contributions to people” and that these areas must be “conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.”
Case 1: Failing Biodiversity to Protect Industry
The non-government organizations EcoJustice and the British Columbia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society released a report in February 2022 called “An Honest Accounting: Improving B.C.’s Approach to Claiming Other Conserved Areas.” The report critically reviewed protected areas in British Columbia and found that its provincial designations of conserved areas are, in many cases, not meeting the international and national criteria for effective protection.
B.C. uses the “other conserved areas” designation more than any other province in the country. The B.C. government recently reported that 19.5% of the province is covered by a combination of protected areas (including provincial parks) and “other conserved areas.” Throughout the province, “other conserved areas” account for roughly 4% of B.C.’s total conserved areas.
“BC has abused this tool to falsely inflate their progress towards protected area targets.”Ball & Nixon, 2022
This new report examines three of its provincial designations that together make up 97% of the province’s claimed “other conserved areas.” The report concludes that the area covered by these three designations do not meet international or Canadian standards for biodiversity conservation. For example, one of the designations, “Old Growth Management Areas,” still allows logging, oil and gas development, and road-building. These areas are also not long-term or based on fixed boundaries. The “Old Growth Management Areas” is the most common designation used out of the three examined in the report and account for 1.57% of B.C.’s area.
In other words, much of the area the B.C. government is claiming as protected and counting towards Canada’s progress towards 30×30 do not meet the criteria outlined in Target 3 as being “effectively managed.”
Goal B: Biodiversity and Sustainable Use
Goal B of the Global Biodiversity Framework calls on governments to value, maintain, or enhance nature’s contributions to people through conservation and sustainable use. The framework directly acknowledges the importance of nature’s contributions to people and their well-being.
As a specific target action for 2030, Target 10 reads: “Ensure all areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, in particular through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.”
Maintaining healthy populations of wildlife species and ongoing hunting opportunities requires effective biodiversity protection and resource management that upholds governments’ responsibilities towards Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. As the Global Biodiversity Framework acknowledges, one of the components of biodiversity protection is recognizing nature’s contributions to people and maintaining sustainable harvests.
Case 2: Breach of Treaty Rights
It’s not just NGO reports that have taken the B.C. government to task for its record on natural resource management and protection. The Global Biodiversity Framework is clear that governments must ensure “equitable and effective participation in decision-making” (Target 21) by Indigenous peoples. Decision-making must also include “free, prior, and informed consent” (Target 20) of Indigenous communities. B.C. has fallen short on this area, too.
A B.C. Supreme Court ruling in June 2021 (Yahey v British Columbia) that found the government had breached its Treaty responsibilities to Blueberry River First Nations by allowing development on their territory that caused ongoing cumulative impacts affecting their treaty rights.
It was a landmark ruling. It was the first time a court ruled that treaty rights had been breached due to cumulative impacts of developments over many years. (For a great analysis of the case and the history of treaty infringement legal precedents in Canada, check out The University of Calgary Faculty of Law online blog.)
The court ruling had implications for some massive resource extraction and development projects in B.C., including the $16 billion Site C dam project that First Nations in B.C. have long opposed.
The court decision required the government to reach a satisfactory agreement with Blueberry River First Nations within six months or the government would be prohibited from permitting further industrial activity in Blueberry’s traditional territory.
In October 2021, the B.C. government announced that they reached an agreement in negotiations with Blueberry River First Nations on forestry and oil and gas development in Blueberry’s traditional territory.
As part of the agreement, the B.C. government committed $65 million to support both ecological restoration and Indigenous ways of life. At the same time, the government is permitting 195 forestry and oil and gas projects in the region and has proposed substantial cuts to licensed moose and caribou hunting in the Peace Region. At this time, it is unclear whether the B.C. government’s proposed reductions to licensed hunting will have any appreciable impact on biodiversity protection or Reconciliation in addressing its Treaty violations.
Expert Panel Report: Findings
The big question is this: Will the Global Biodiversity Framework and all its actions and targets be enough to protect global biodiversity?
The answer to the question above brings us back to the new expert panel report released in January 2022. This report examined the Global Biodiversity Framework and is aptly titled “Transformative actions on all drivers of biodiversity loss are urgently required to achieve the global goals by 2050.”
According to an article in The Globe and Mail by science reporter Ivan Semeniuk, the report notes that we need “transformative” changes across a range of issues and management tools to drastically alter the way humans use natural resources. We need to address “multiple, interlocking threats to global biodiversity” and we need to do this in an internationally collaborative way.
The report focuses on five main direct drivers of biodiversity loss that we need to eliminated to prevent continued widespread extinctions: land and sea use change, direct exploitation, climate change, pollution, and invasive species.
“High ambition to halt the loss of biodiversity and of nature’s contributions to people in the goals and milestones of the GBF requires ambitious, systemic and sustained efforts to address the full range of direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity change.”Leadley et al. (2022)
And dealing with these threats requires more than just fences and protected areas; it requires major transformative change. For instance, the report says that to achieve the type of transformative, high ambition action needed, Target 10 should really be read to mean that 100% of areas under forestry management need to be sustainable.
In an interview for the Globe and Mail article, Dr. Andrew Gonzalez, one of the co-leads of the report, discusses the five threats dealt with in the report and says that “The reasons why those things happen are fundamentally social and economic.”
One of the transformative changes needed is a fundamental change in resource extraction and development activities. In Dr. Gonzalez’s words, “Right now, there’s no effort to align our modes of production and consumption with the status of ecosystems and the way they function.”
That’s a powerful statement with important implications for management and policy across all sectors.
If the B.C. government continues to permit irresponsible industrial activity in high density wildlife habitat and implement weak and ineffectual conserved area plans, it will be wildlife that is harmed, and it will have long-term negative implications for future biodiversity protection that is urgently needed.
As we learned from the expert panel report analysis of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, governments need to implement transformative and high ambition policies now to reorganize how they protect biodiversity and manage multiple and interconnected environmental impacts. So far, B.C. is falling short.
However, as a community that relies on effectively managed and conserved landscapes and wildlife, we need to pressure the B.C. government to take the issue of biodiversity protection seriously. Biodiversity protection also comes along with the B.C. government upholding its obligations to Indigenous communities and fulfilling international obligations to biodiversity protection.