Why Canadians should act globally to save biodiversity

Why Canadians should act globally
to save biodiversity

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

Why Canadians should act globally to save biodiversity

By Anne Lambert, founding director of the International Conservation Fund of Canada

Biodiversity Action Agenda Item 4.2

Lead in sharply accelerating international dialogue on biodiversity, expanding upon the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and drawing on Canada’s expertise in round tables. This will help to include critical voices to the table beyond the usual scientific community—including museum scientists, research curators, communicators, visual and performing artists, the humanities, traditional ecological knowledge, in addition to the social sciences and natural sciences.

As Canadians, our first responsibility in the face of global biodiversity loss is to safeguard natural ecosystems at home. As various blogs in this space indicate, we need to do more, and, happily, we are trending in that direction.

But we should act globally as well. Why?

Well, first, the Earth’s natural heritage belongs to all of us and is our collective responsibility. The world has a stake in our polar bears and we have a stake in elephants and orangutans. Second, tropical regions teem with biological diversity and this is where nature is most imperilled and conservation is most under-funded. The Amazon alone is home to 6,000 tree species (vs. 140 species indigenous to Canada), 5,600 fish species, 1,300 bird species (Canada has 450 bird species) and an estimated 2.5 million species of insects (most not yet described). Many tropical species are particularly vulnerable due to very small ranges or because of sparse distribution across large ranges, as with many tree species.

Red panda sitting in trees
The red panda is an endangered species native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. Photo: Michael Owyang, Red Panda Network

Are we protecting this rich biodiversity? No, not nearly enough. Something on the order of one million species are at some degree of risk of extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Most are in the tropics. Tropical deforestation is proceeding apace despite the crucial importance of tropical forests to climate and hydrological cycles. Conversion for agriculture remains the top threat to terrestrial ecosystems, but this isn’t inevitable. In tropical countries there are large areas of degraded lands that can be restored for agriculture (or as natural areas), and agriculture can be made much more productive. Marine ecosystems are under siege from unsustainable fishing practices — a lose-lose that can be transformed to a win-win — pollution, conversion of coastal ecosystems and climate change.

Tropical ecosystems are also vital because of their huge potential for countering climate change. Especially important are tropical forests and carbon-rich peatlands and coastal ecosystems. Actions to protect these ecosystems are a highly cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions and protect other benefits such as the provision of rainfall and drinking water and the protection of coastlines and fish habitat. On top of this, restoring degraded or lost natural ecosystems can remove CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale.

What can Canadians do?

A lot. My organization, the International Conservation Fund of Canada, has invested more than $25 million in 32 countries to conserve tropical ecosystems and species. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, we are helping the Kayapo Indigenous People protect the largest continuous area of protected tropical forest in the world — an area twice the size of Nova Scotia. In this highly threatened region of the Amazon, these lands would have been invaded and largely destroyed but for the alliance of the Kayapo with conservation organizations, now led by our organization (the International Conservation Fund of Canada). In achieving this, we’ve safeguarded a wealth of biodiversity and are maintaining carbon stores that, if released, would represent about seven years of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Barba Azul reserve protects the seasonally inundated Beni Savanna in Bolivia
Barba Azul reserve protects the seasonally inundated Beni Savanna in Bolivia. Photo: Tjalle Boorsma, Asociación Armonía

Countries like Canada can act on a larger scale. In recent years, Norway, Germany, and the U.K. have pledged billions in bilateral aid to combat tropical deforestation. Canada has not, but we could assume a leadership role here, in part by making conservation a focus of bilateral aid. We can also apply some of the financial assistance we’ve committed to help developing countries with climate mitigation and adaptation to nature-based solutions, which provide both climate and biodiversity benefits.

With biodiversity loss and climate change, humanity faces an unprecedented challenge. As Canadians, we must rise to it, and to do that we must act both within our borders and beyond.

Mali’s “desert elephants” face adversity but survive thanks in part to Canadians.
Mali’s “desert elephants” face adversity but survive thanks in part to Canadians. Photo: Carlton Ward

What can you do to make biodiversity count?

Let your elected officials know that you want more action on global biodiversity loss and climate change – this makes a difference! Consider supporting organizations that are working to conserve local to global biodiversity. You can also help by choosing sustainable foods and avoiding ones that harm local and global ecosystems, such as products using unsustainable palm oil.

About Making Biodiversity Count Series

In February 2019, the Biodiversity Action Agenda, authored by Women for Nature was published. It asks all Canadians to take immediate action on biodiversity loss as there is no recovery from extinction. As a 24-point action agenda, it offers a combination of actions, including low-hanging fruit as well as long-term systemic changes. Follow our blog for bi-weekly posts exploring each action.