Here are 10 nature conservation highlights that provide evidence for hope. Examples that, if amplified, if repeated and if built upon, will help shape the Canada and world we need in the coming decade.
Citizen science: Many people now have one of the most power scientific instruments ever invented: their cell phone. Apps such as iNaturalist or eBird allow us to document nature like never before. Over one billion observations in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility are changing what we know about nature and how we protect it.
Natural cities: While urban growth can cause many ecological problems, in cities across the planet, nature is making a comeback. In Canada, cities like Edmonton and Toronto are embarking on bold restoration projects to integrate nature into the built environment. These efforts help people connect with the natural world and rediscover the reciprocal relationship between nature and people.
Growing protected areas: With 15 per cent of the planet’s land and inlands waters protected, the global target of protecting 17 per cent by 2020 under the Convention on Biological Diversity will be achieved. In Canada, the amount of protected area has crept up to almost 12 per cent. Under the Natural Areas Conservation Program, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and partners conserved over 446,000 hectares (more than 1.1. million acres). Canada has set its sights on now conserving 25 per cent of its lands and oceans by 2025, working toward 30 per cent by 2030.
Wildlife recovery: Despite a growing number of threatened species, there is also a growing list of species that we are saving from extinction. Giant panda and mountain gorilla were both down-listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species in the past decade. In Canada, peregrine falcon, hooded warbler and roughhead grenadier (a marine fish) have all been re-assessed as not at risk in Canada, thanks to conservation efforts. And species such as small-white lady’s-slipper, wood bison and Rocky Mountain tailed frog have been down-listed.
Indigenous protected areas: The essential role of Indigenous Peoples in protecting nature has been better acknowledged by governments and conservation organizations. The IUCN has now created a new category called Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. In BC, Tribal Parks and Conservancies are expanding. In 2018, Canada announced the Edéhzhíe Protected Area in the Northwest Territories. The process has been designed to respect the rights, responsibilities and priorities of Indigenous Peoples and is led by the Indigenous Circle of Experts.
New forests: The 2010s have been a decade of reforestation in many parts of the world. In 2011, the Bonn Challenge was created as a global initiative to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s degraded lands by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. In countries like China, India and the U.S., these new forests are resulting in an overall increase in forest cover.
Arduous progress on climate change: We have gained a very clear understanding of how climate change will impact society. We’ve identified how we can use nature-based solutions to help lessen the impacts and that economic growth and carbon pollution don’t need to go together. Through the Paris Agreement, we also have broad consensus that the Earth’s warming cannot exceed 2 degrees Celsius. Individuals, cities and corporations all need to play a role in reducing carbon pollution.
Better information: New “Green Lists” for species and protected areas showcase what’s working in conservation. A new standard was developed to identify and map Key Biodiversity Areas. These shine a light on the places in Canada and around the world where we still have an opportunity to protect some of the planet’s most important wildlife and ecosystems.
Get outdoors: Conservation needs people to value, and ultimately to love, nature. The IUCN’s #NatureForAll initiative is working to rebuild that connection by communicating the benefits of being outdoors.
Public support: Despite often slow progress in conservation, the vast majority of Canadians support nature, protecting endangered species, increasing protected areas, and knows that they are happier when spending time in nature.
At the dawn of 2020: we generally know what we need to do, and that we need to do better, but our delivery is falling short. There is evidence that we can save species, we can have economic growth and reduce carbon pollution, and we can improve our well-being through a stronger connection to nature.
This is practical, not Pollyannaish. The United Nations has declared 2020 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The next decade may be our opportunity to decidedly change our course to save nature, and set the stage for a sustainable future.
(Dan Kraus is senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada)