National Newswatch

We are now two years into the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which was launched in 2020 to urge the world to take action to slow, halt and even reverse nature loss. This UN call to action challenges the nearly 200 participating countries to embrace nature-based solutions for climate mitigation, reverse biodiversity declines and support human livelihoods, all to shape a more sustainable society. Today, countries are still grappling with how to achieve impactful and lasting ecosystem restoration results. Canada can lead this global effort on our journey to meet conservation commitments, but only through collaboration, investment and cross-sector engagement.

This is a familiar position for Canada. We were at the forefront of global restoration efforts in the 1990s, when societal consensus developed around the need to reclaim and restore degraded lands. Over time, restoration efforts have expanded to address the challenges of urbanization, land conversion and invasive species. These efforts have even filtered down to the grassroots level in Canada to grow programs like pollinator gardens in schoolyards and community invasive species removal initiatives. Still, the looming threats of accelerating climate change and biodiversity loss demand we do more restoration, faster, at a much larger scale. Because Canada is still losing ground on ecosystem loss.

The country has lost more than two-thirds of its grasslands — ecosystems that store carbon, filter water and feed communities. Similarly, southern Ontario’s wetlands have dwindled to under 30 per cent of their historic land cover, meaning numerous at-risk species have lost their habitats, and some of our communities’ greatest natural buffers against flooding and drought have vanished. These losses can be slowed, halted and even reversed, but we need broad-based action to achieve this.

To succeed, we need to sync knowledge, policy and practices to build a whole-of-society approach that will once again set Canada apart as a global leader in ecosystem restoration.

That’s why the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas (North America) recently assembled an interdisciplinary group of experts from government, conservation organizations, civil society and industry in Ottawa to develop an action plan that would see Canada re-establish our international leadership in ecosystem restoration.

Mike Wong, North American Vice Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, noted that Canada’s leadership is once again needed to demonstrate how to activate restoration for sustainable societies. To do this will require investment, collaboration and leadership.

The parties gathered with Wong and NCC agreed that a national secretariat on ecosystem restoration must be established to support and mobilize awareness and action under the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the Global Biodiversity Framework. A resourced secretariat, such as that recommended by the working group of government departments, non-governmental organizations and universities, would provide coordination with the many partners ready to ramp up the restoration of Canada’s degraded ecosystems. We look forward to discussing how to enable this coordination with Indigenous Peoples, industries, NGOs, communities and governments that have a role to play in restoration in Canada.

In just a few days, governments, scientists and conservation experts will gather in Montreal for a global summit on nature, called COP15. There, they will set a course to end nature loss around the world — to create a nature-positive future. With that, there is no better time than now to demonstrate Canadian leadership by creating the means to deliver on our collective ambition. Coordination of restoration activities at a national level is a necessary first action in a major reorientation of how Canada can contribute to the restoration of ecosystems. To lead the world, we first need to act at home.

Lisa McLaughlin is vice-president of conservation policy and planning for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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