Delivering on Canada’s ocean and land protection commitments

Faced with the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, Canadians expect their governments to act decisively and to invest to protect nature—our life support system.

Budget 2021 committed over $3.3 billion over five years to deliver on Canada’s target of protecting 25% of land and ocean by 2025, and 30% by 2030. We are now well into this commitment with much work still to be done. As of December 2021, only 13.5% of land and 13.9% of ocean is in protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). Experience over the past few years has shown that progress in establishing and effectively managing protected areas is hampered by the short-term (5 year) nature of this funding. Protected areas and OECMs are, by definition, permanent designations and require long-term investment to effectively deliver nature conservation outcomes, and to provide economic, social and cultural benefits to communities.

Upfront certainty that the federal government will provide long- term support to Indigenous Nations and communities and other partners is needed to accelerate progress towards Canada’s conservation commitments, and to ensure that these decisions support the development of diversified, conservation-focused economies in Indigenous and rural and remote communities.

Different approaches to conservation are required in different parts of Canada, but long-term support for partners is key throughout the country. Almost 90% of land and all freshwater and ocean areas in Canada are held and managed by governments — federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous – which means all levels of government need to contribute to this conservation effort. The 10% of Canada’s landbase that is privately held is concentrated in southern Canada where most Canadians live and where there are significant biodiversity declines. Recommendations for supporting Indigenous, public and private land protection are included below.

Economic Benefits of Protected Areas

In 2017-18, the economic impact of visitor spending at Parks Canada sites alone included a $2.6 billion contribution to Canada’s GDP, supported almost 28,000 full time jobs across the country, including in rural and remote communities, and generated $449 million in tax revenues across multiple levels of government. International assessments have shown similar returns for marine protected areas.

In 2020, a global study of protected areas found that the benefits of protecting 30% of land and ocean by 2030 would outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least 5-to-1.

In addition to employment and tourism spinoff benefits, protected areas contribute significant environmental and societal benefits by avoiding deforestation, lowering risk of zoonotic diseases emerging via ecosystem fragmentation, protecting watershed health, and contributing to source water protection.

In order to produce these benefits, protected areas must be strongly protected, well managed, and adequately resourced in the long term.

Total Recommended Investment:

$18.1 billion over eight years (to 2030-2031), followed by $2.8 billion per year ongoing, plus additional funds, as determined by Indigenous organizations, to enable Indigenous peoples and governments to lead land and ocean protection, stewardship and resource management efforts on their territories.

1. Indigenous-led conservation

The Green Budget Coalition calls upon the Government of Canada to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act that was adopted into Canadian law in June 2021. Article 26 of UNDRIP requires states to give legal recognition and protection to Indigenous peoples’ “right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.”

Indigenous Protected Conservation Areas (IPCAs) and Indigenous Guardians programs are proven examples of Indigenous leadership in the protection and stewardship of lands, territories, and resources. IPCAs and Indigenous Guardian programs yield robust social, cultural and economic benefits as well as environmental benefits that directly address urgent issues related to achieving biodiversity and climate targets that are a priority for the federal government and which benefit all Canadians.

The Green Budget Coalition commends the federal government for providing some funding to support IPCAs and Indigenous Guardians. However, current funding programs are inadequate and do not match the demand and the extent of resourcing Indigenous Nations require to advance their conservation priorities. Issues with the current model include: most of the funding presently committed to IPCAs is focused on establishing new protected areas and conserved areas, with little remaining for long-term stewardship; the Indigenous Guardians program is still in “pilot” phase, with demand for Guardians programs far outstripping opportunities; and at least one federal department has shown little progress in the implementation of funds committed towards IPCAs in 2021. More fundamentally, it is increasingly clear that the current federal ‘program funding’ model does not adequately advance the Nation-to-Nation relationships required to further reconciliation and implement Indigenous rights. As highlighted in recommendation 4.12 in the Indigenous Circle of Experts’ landmark We Rise Together report, “a more streamlined, predictable and flexible funding model is required.”

The Green Budget Coalition applauds the Government of Canada’s commitment, in the Emissions Reduction Plan, to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples to create an agenda for climate action, including “Mechanisms to establish federal support for Indigenous-led climate strategies.” This must include the necessary resources and political direction to develop new, permanent and predictable, Nation-to-Nation sustainable financing arrangements that are co-designed with Indigenous peoples and implemented by Indigenous-led institutions.

As regional and national Indigenous organisations and governments identify their budgetary and policy recommendations, the Green Budget Coalition is committed to supporting and amplifying these recommendations as they relate to Indigenous- led conservation including IPCAs and Indigenous Guardians, and to updating our recommendations accordingly.

2. Permanent funding for land, freshwater and ocean protection and stewardship

Permanent funding for land, freshwater and ocean protection is necessary if Canada is to reach our targets, effectively manage terrestrial and marine protected areas, and support Indigenous-led conservation and stewardship, as well as local conservation-focused economies. Indigenous Nations and communities and other partners are proposing significant areas for protection. These partners need certainty that long-term, adequate, and stable funding will be available from Crown governments to support ongoing management in order to make long-term decisions about land and ocean use. Inadequate funding and the resultant understaffing has been repeatedly shown to be one of the primary causes of underperforming marine and terrestrial protected areas, and a major barrier to the establishment of new protected areas. Federal departments responsible for protected areas are also hampered by the uncertainty and demands of short term, project-focused, funding cycles.

Recommended Investment:

$1.4 billion per year in A-Base funding increasing to $2.8 billion per year by 2030-31 to support long-term management and monitoring of terrestrial and marine protected areas.

  • $750 million per year increasing to $1.5 billion per year by 2030-31 for terrestrial protected areas. [ECCC, PC]
  • $650 million per year increasing to $1.3 billion per year by 2030-31 for marine protected areas. [DFO, ECCC, PC]

3. Ecological connectivity

Ecological connectivity is vitally important to ensuring effective protected area networks that conserve nature. It is also critical to tackle top threats to biodiversity: habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change. Canada has previously committed to establish effective, connected and representative protected area networks under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Connectivity is anticipated to be a key element of the protected areas target in the new Global Biodiversity Framework expected to be adopted at CBD COP 15 in Montreal in December 2022. Federal investment is needed to support nation-wide work by Crown and Indigenous governments, NGOs and private interests to ensure a well-connected network of protected areas across Canada.

The Government of Canada has committed to completing marine protected area (MPA) networks in five priority marine bioregions though none have yet been completed. By ensuring ecological connectivity between protected areas, MPA networks amplify conservation benefits and more effectively address climate impacts by allowing species to move between sites while remaining protected. MPA network planning processes in BC’s Northern Shelf Bioregion and the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy region are furthest ahead but there remains considerable work to do and significant funding will be needed to support successful implementation. MPA network planning is an integrated and inclusive process that requires considerable investment to ensure effective stakeholder engagement, science support, and capacity building and engagement of partner organizations, including other federal agencies, Indigenous, provincial and territorial governments.

Recommended Investments:

  • $500 million over three years to initiate a nation-wide Connectivity Fund to conserve areas identified as important for ecological connectivity, create effective mitigation measures to improve connectivity of fragmented landscapes, and to advance connectivity conservation. [ECCC]
  • $160 million over five years to complete MPA network planning processes already underway and to start MPA network planning in four additional bioregions by 2030. [DFO, PC, ECCC]

4. Enabling collaborative approaches to conservation

Canada’s high-value biodiversity areas are well-known, yet conflicting land-use interests often prevent timely establishment and recognition of new protected areas, OECMs and IPCAs. New bridges between governments, Indigenous communities, and industry are often required. Non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners can help to build these necessary bridges with innovative solutions that unlock durable conservation success.

Canada is fortunate to have a strong roster of experienced NGOs that collaborate with provinces, territories, Indigenous peoples, industry, corporations, private landowners and individuals. Support from the Government of Canada to activate NGO engagement at scale will accelerate efforts toward protecting and conserving 30% of land and ocean by 2030.

For public land, freshwater and ocean conservation, NGOs play a critical role in unlocking opportunities through awareness-raising, supporting Indigenous-led conservation, engaging Canadians in public policy decisions, providing technical expertise and capacity, and building bridges between partners based on extensive relationships.

The possibility of accelerating private large landscape conservation in Canada is also an exciting avenue for collaboration. There are privately held land parcels in Canada that are tens of thousands of hectares in size that are vital to biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration. A Conservation Innovation Partnership Initiative with matched government and private financial contributions will expand opportunities to use market-based approaches in support of durable biodiversity conservation.

Recommended Investment:

$600 million over eight years (to 2030-2031) to support NGOs in helping deliver Canada’s conservation targets. [ECCC]