Press Release: Provincial action on UN Biodiversity Report urgently needed

Saskatchewan Environmental Society
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
For immediate release

Provincial action on UN Biodiversity Report urgently needed

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) is calling on the Government of Saskatchewan to do more to protect biodiversity in Saskatchewan and to act upon the recommendations in a United Nations (UN) report on the status of biodiversity and ecological services released on Monday.

The UN report, spearheaded by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, found that the health of ecosystems is rapidly deteriorating around the world and that transformative change at the local and global level is needed to conserve and restore nature. The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%. About 1 million plant and animal species worldwide are now threatened with extinction.

Among its many recommendations, the UN report highlights the importance of establishing protected areas, preserving wetlands, and reducing greenhouse gas pollution to prevent species loss and preserve ecosystem services. SES recommends that the Saskatchewan government give high priority to the following three policy initiatives. Unfortunately, Saskatchewan is currently falling short on each of these fronts.

  1. Protected Areas

 The Saskatchewan government has protected only 9% of its land area, while the two national parks in our province account for another 0.7%. This falls well short of the commitment made by the Government of Canada to the UN that 17% of lands nationwide would be protected by 2020.

Monday’s UN report indicates that further expansion of protected areas is badly needed. The Saskatchewan government no longer appears to be pursuing the 17% target. In its Prairie Resilience update released last month, the Saskatchewan government signalled its official target is protecting 12% of Saskatchewan lands by 2020, which is below Canada’s nationwide commitment.

SES calls on the Saskatchewan government to increase its level of ambition and double the size of the protected area network across the province, giving special priority to preserving Saskatchewan’s biodiversity hotspots.

Peter Prebble, SES board member, pointed to the southern portions of the Great Sand Hills and the Saskatchewan River Delta as two examples of important areas in Saskatchewan that deserve protection: “The southern portion of the Great Sand Hills remains unprotected despite being internationally recognized as one of the largest remaining remnants of native grassland in Canada. It is home to 70 species of birds, 19 species of mammals and 5 species of amphibians. In 2007, 32 areas in the Great Sand Hills were recommended for protection in a regional environmental assessment, but none have ever received that protection. Additionally, the Saskatchewan River Delta is one of the largest active inland deltas in North America and one of Canada’s richest regions for abundance and diversity of wildlife.”

Protection of the Saskatchewan River Delta should be done in conjunction with the Métis & First Nation peoples and local communities of the Delta, and should provide them with important employment and financial benefits. Such a direction would represent concrete action on Monday’s UN report, which emphasizes the important role Indigenous peoples and local communities should play in establishing and maintaining protected areas that impact them. “Some of the best protected lands on our planet are intact thanks to the work of Indigenous peoples,” Prebble said.

  1. Wetlands Preservation

Monday’s UN report emphasizes the importance of preserving wetlands and preventing their degradation. It states 85% of wetlands worldwide have been destroyed.

Saskatchewan is losing wetlands at an estimated 28 acres per day. Saskatchewan’s wetlands sequester carbon dioxide, offer wildlife habitat and provide an important flood control buffer, all ecological functions that are being lost as drainage accelerates in the southern portions of our province.

SES urges the Saskatchewan government to give protection to Saskatchewan’s largest and most valuable wetlands and to incent the restoration of wetlands in key locations.

  1. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Pollution

Saskatchewan’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen yet again, according to Canada’s latest national inventory report released in April of 2019. Saskatchewan emissions now sit at 77.9 million tonnes annually – up 1.6 million tonnes over last year.

Monday’s UN report emphasizes the urgent need to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas pollution as quickly as possible. Global average temperature has already risen 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Monday’s UN report states that even if global average temperature rise is limited to 2 degrees Celsius, climate-related species extinction is expected to be a shocking 5%. However, if emissions continue with business as usual and global average temperature rises by 4.3 degrees Celsius, the species extinction rate on Earth is expected to skyrocket to 16%.

SES urges the Saskatchewan government to take greenhouse gas emission reduction much more seriously and to co-operate fully with the federal government by committing to do its fair share in helping Canada achieve its 2030 emission reduction obligations under the Paris Agreement. Given the latest figures, that would require Saskatchewan to make a 30 million tonne per year reduction in emissions over the next decade.

Monday’s UN report makes it clear that human wellbeing is heavily dependent on a healthy natural world. Nature, through its ecological processes, sustains the quality of our air and fresh water, regulates the climate, provides pollination services and provides humanity with a wide array other critically important services. Failure to act now to preserve biodiversity and the ecological functions of the natural world will have very serious negative effects on our children and all generations to follow. The Saskatchewan government should be mindful of this fact.