Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada’s National Observer
The spotted owl is a Canadian symbol of the world’s collapsing biodiversity. In Canada, only one female remains in the wild, with logging and other industries threatening to make it vanish completely.
On Wednesday, Greenpeace Canada inflated a giant owl on the Rideau Hall grounds near Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s residence to demand movement on a promised nature protection law.
Last December, Ottawa announced its commitment to introduce a new nature accountability bill in 2024. The bill intends to develop a framework for the federal government to protect 30 per cent of Canada’s land and waters and regularly report on the progress.
Greenpeace’s action arrives as the House begins its winter session and ahead of the COP16 biodiversity conference in Colombia later this year. COP16 will follow up negotiations on the historic Kunming-Montreal framework hammered out in Montreal at the end of 2022.
The international agreement commits countries to protect 30 per cent of land and waters by 2030 and recognizes Indigenous leadership as a central pillar to achieve those goals. The agreement also reaffirms the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent. However, not all Indigenous Peoples were happy with the agreement.
The agreement was a historical landmark in the fight against the global biodiversity crisis, largely seen as akin to major climate agreements like in Paris or Kyoto.
One million species are at risk of extinction globally, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an independent international group of scientists and knowledge holders established to help inform better policy on biodiversity.
In Canada, around one in five species have some level of risk.
Shane Moffatt, head of nature and food campaigns at Greenpeace Canada, says the legislation is a “litmus test” for Ottawa’s sincerity in taking action to meet its Kunming-Montreal commitments.
“This would make their grand promises real and actually see them implemented here in Canada,” he added, “Without legislation to make good on those promises, it’s just more talking from government.”
Greenpeace Canada wants strong public reporting, government accountability and recourse for civil society if targets aren’t met. Moffatt also points to the importance of Indigenous rights and knowledge systems being included explicitly in the legislation.
Ottawa is targeting a 2024 introduction for the promised nature accountability bill ahead of COP16, said Kaitlin Power, press secretary to Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault. It’s unclear if the bill will be able to clear all its readings and committees ahead of COP16 in the fall.
“Together, the bill and the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy will provide a robust, co-ordinated approach to meeting [Global Biodiversity Framework] commitments in Canada,” a statement from Power said.
When asked if he has a message for Prime Minister Trudeau and Guilbeault, Moffatt said: “Not words, but deeds.
“We need to make good on promises, not make more promises.”
— With files from Natasha Bulowski and John Woodside
Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative