Canada must increase protected areas by 60 percent in three years to meet its commitments

Canadian landscape with lake and mountains

As Canadians, we tend to view our country as being at the forefront of environmentalism and conservation, but a recent report published by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has shown that Canada is behind other countries on a commitments to protect its land and inland waters. The report, which “examines Canada’s performance relative to other countries in protecting our land and freshwater, as well as progress made towards our international commitments,” found that Canada has not come very far in honouring a commitment to protect 17 percent of our natural areas.

In the last decade—from 2006 to 2016—we’ve only protected two percent of our landbase,” Alison Ronson, national director of CPAWS’s parks program, told Desmog Canada. “We just need our government to do more. Often, they make announcements that they’re going to protect an area, but then they don’t put that area into a legal designation.”

Canada made the commitment to protect 17 percent of land in 2010, as part of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Back then, only 9.6 percent of our land and waters were protected, and we made the commitment to reach 17 percent by 2020. According to the CPAWS report, in the seven years since making that commitment, Canada has only made it to 10.6 percent protection, making it the least protected of all of the G7 nations.

“There are a number of countries that we highlight in our report that are actually well beyond the 17 percent and frankly driving to what nature actually needs, which is closer to 50 percent,” Éric Hébert-Daly, CPAWS’s national executive director, told the Globe and Mail. “We are well below average, if you want to look at it from that perspective.”

At the forefront of the G7 countries, Germany currently protects 37.8 percent of its land and waters, and Britain is in second with 28.5 percent. The United States is slightly ahead of Canada at 13 percent. The most protected country in the world is Venezuela, which protects 53.9 percent.

turtle in pond
Canada contains 20 percent of the world’s forests and 24 percent of its wetlands, supporting countless animal species.

The CPAWS report does make several recommendations for bringing Canada up to speed, including implementing existing commitments and pushing forward with proposals that are already underway, as well as working with Indigenous governments to protect Indigenous protected areas and ceasing to issue permits for industrial development in areas protected by Indigenous governments. The report also notes that Canada contains 20 percent of the world’s forests and 24 percent of its wetlands, making our environmental efforts vital to the planet as a whole.

“Absolutely, it is possible for us to get to that target by 2020,” Hébert-Daly told the Globe. “But, more importantly, we have to be careful not to let 17 percent become our ceiling. We have to be thinking about 17 percent as a milestone on our journey to what nature actually needs in terms of its security and its ability to survive over the long term, and scientists are saying that’s much closer to 50 percent.”

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