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Canada is increasing protected areas but how do we pay for them?

Canada is increasing protected areas
but how do we pay for them?

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

Canada is increasing protected areas but how do we pay for them?

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

By Jeremy Guth, trustee of the Woodcock Foundation and chair of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative development committee

Biodiversity Action Agenda Item 4.4

Lead the national implementation of the 20 AICHI Targets from the Convention on Biological Diversity, with clear timelines, by establishing a high-level multi-stakeholder task force reporting to the Prime Minister, moving beyond the usual suspects.

Canada’s commitment to conserve 17% of its terrestrial areas by 2020, 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030 is as much a challenge to finance as it is to plan and implement. Not only must the parts that make up the total be evaluated for their contributions to biodiversity and resilience, but the cost to secure the 92,000 sq. km every new percentage point represents needs to be estimated and will vary depending on their identity and management/ownership.

Designating Public and Private Lands

Private lands may require outright purchase or the purchase of conservation easements on title, meaning a legal agreement is established between a landowner and an appropriate organization (i.e. land trust, conservation non-profit, etc.). Whereas, the process for the designation of public lands for protection will vary along the spectrum from National Parks and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA’s) to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD’s) other catch-all category: Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECM’s). Incentives and support for the authorities managing each public and private area will need to be negotiated as will the cost of restoration and ongoing stewardship. Private leases and extraction rights on public land that are inconsistent with the criteria for effective conservation will need to be purchased and retired. Until this complex assessment is complete, the funding can only be roughly estimated. But a scale of several billions of dollars is appropriate.

Only a small fraction of funding on that scale can come from traditional sources for conservation or from the annual budgets of environmental and wildlife agencies within the government. It needs to be planned for and capitalized on in a manner that recognizes it for what it is: an unprecedented and vital system of nature-based green infrastructure for the country and the world’s biodiversity and climate change crises.

City in Canada with forest
Image by Photos.com from Photo Images via Canva

Nature-Based Green Infrastructure

Engineered, or grey infrastructures — including roads, rails, bridges, sewers, and increasingly storm surge barriers — have dominated Canada’s national public infrastructural investments. Yet increasingly in the EU, the UN and even the World Bank contexts, nature-based green infrastructure, or the protection of biodiversity through landscape conservation, is understood to be an essential investment for resilience and adaptation to climate change. These include meadows, wetlands, urban forests, ravines, and gardens among many others. In this context, green infrastructure is a long-term public investment in essential ecosystem services and offers an arguably better return over time on investment than grey infrastructure.

The financing of most infrastructure, which is at a similar scale to that of large-scale land protection, is through a mixture of public funds both current and future — the latter procured through the issuance of government bonds (which I will discuss in my next post — stay tuned). It is particularly appropriate to borrow in this case as the public benefit of land conservation is indefinite, so long as it is well managed and protected. Unlike a concrete storm surge barrier, the natural systems within protected areas will never need to be rebuilt.

How can you help finance and build nature-based
green infrastructure for biodiversity?

Confronting the costs to protect biodiversity on a national scale is daunting. What can we, as individuals, do to meaningfully contribute to nature-based solutions that will cost billions? Public funding, however large it needs to be, responds to political will within democracies: if we want or need a particular solution, we will find the money to fund it. The current multi-billion-dollar response by the Canadian government to the social and health impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic is the most recent and spectacular example. Each of us can contribute as voters and advocates to the creation of the will to do what Canada can to respond to the biodiversity crisis, and when there’s a will, the means will follow!

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.

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