A C$1.3-billion, five-year boost to protected areas was a somewhat unsung highlight of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2018 federal budget released Tuesday, receiving sparse immediate news coverage but high praise from green budget groups that had pushed hard for a renewed commitment to land, waters, and species at risk.
The protected areas dollars include “the creation of a new Nature Fund to target more private land for conservation, as the country struggles with a loss of biodiversity that has accelerated since the 1970s,” National Observer reports. It will “support species protection efforts in the provinces and territories, and help build Indigenous capacity to conserve land and the species on them.” The fund will receive an initial infusion of $500 million, and the federal government hopes provincial, business, and non-profit contributions will double that amount to $1 billion.
“Canada is one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” Morneau told the House of Commons. “It’s up to all of us to help keep it that way.”
The Observer’s Carl Meyer notes that the budget “comes as Canada struggles to achieve its international commitment under a biodiversity treaty to conserve at least 17% of its land and inland waters by 2020. The country is currently at 10%.”
Stephen Hazell, director of conservation and general counsel at Nature Canada, said the funding was long overdue. “The nature fund is an innovative approach to ensure that federal dollars are well-spent through partnerships with provinces, private sector, and foundations,” he told the Observer. “Providing financial support to Indigenous communities, in particular, represents a fabulous opportunity to conserve biodiversity.”
World Wildlife Fund Canada President Megan Leslie said she was pleased with the budget, but noted that it projects protected areas funding a bit far into the future. “The fact that it is even in the budget is very important,” she said. “It signals that this government cares about wildlife loss and biodiversity loss.” But “it seems to be heavily weighted so that more than half of that money comes after 2019. The cynical side of me would say, after the election.”
Last year, WWF’s Living Planet Report Canada warned that half of the country’s monitored vertebrate species are in decline, “and the most imperiled—those listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA)—are continuing to decline.”
In a release yesterday, WWF said the budget commitments “have the potential to support long-term conservation gains in Canada. There are many details around implementation, funding and timelines still to be worked out, and some concern that funding is spread over five years, well beyond Canada’s 2020 deadline for meeting international commitments” on protected areas. “But WWF looks forward to working with the federal government to ensure these programs help to reverse the decline of wildlife in Canada.”
The Observer notes the budget is vague on Canada’s commitments to international climate finance, though it contains some elaboration on low-carbon funding to provinces and territories under the pan-Canadian climate plan: $420 million to Ontario for building retrofits and farm energy reductions, $260 million to Quebec for “best practices” in farming and forestry, building retrofits, and industry “innovation”, $162 million to British Columbia for reforestation on public lands, $150 million to Alberta for farm energy efficiency and Indigenous renewable energy projects, and a combined $107 million to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for energy retrofits.
The protected areas commitment was one of the three lead recommendations this year from the Green Budget Coalition, an annual analysis that this year brought together 19 mostly national environment and nature groups. The GBC called for $1.4 billion over three years, followed by ongoing funding of $470 million per year. That effort received a boost from government backbencher and former environmental lawyer Will Amos (L-Pontiac), who assembled signatures from 115 MPs and Senators from all parties for a supportive letter to Morneau.
The Mining Association of Canada supported budget commitments on SARA and the new federal Impact Assessment Act. And a coalition of Ontario nature and environment groups said the strategy “hits a home run for biodiversity conservation” and urged Ontario to follow suit.
“This money is essential for protecting natural areas identified by Indigenous communities, provinces, territories, municipalities, and private land conservancy organizations across Canada,” said Ontario Nature Executive Director Caroline Schultz. “It’s now high time for the Government of Ontario to do its part to protect the places that we all love.”
Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu said she was pleased to see Canada’s “historic commitment” to species at risk. “Protected areas and biodiversity are critical to our work mitigating and adapting to climate change,” she said. “Beyond conserving species and ecosystems, protected areas provide services—such as clean water, carbon storage, genetic reservoirs, disaster mitigation, and soil stabilization—that are essential to a stable climate.”
But she noted the lack of any budget movement to eliminate the $3.3 billion Canada burns away in fossil fuel subsidies every year, as well as dollars to implement pan-Canadian carbon pricing and evaluate the progress of Canada’s climate framework.
A couple of CAN-Rac members said the budget appeared to lose momentum on implementation of the pan-Canadian climate plan, after a more significant financial outlay in 2017.
“It’s worrisome that the government is not proposing new significant measures to break our fossil fuel addiction and speed the transition to green jobs and a renewable energy economy,” said Greenpeace Canada Climate and Energy Campaigner Mike Hudema. “Lack of action on climate change is particularly concerning knowing the government’s own data shows the gap between the governments Paris climate commitments and our greenhouse gas emissions continue to widen.”
“The 2017 Budget pointed Canada in the right direction, but the 2018 Budget is timid and does little to bend Canada’s emissions curve,” said Cathy Orlando, National Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada. “Extending the rising carbon fee to 2030, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and imposing border carbon adjustments will help ensure a strong, diverse, and competitive economy, inspiring other countries to take Canada’s lead.”
In an email to supporters, Evidence for Democracy Policy Director Kathleen Walsh pointed to an “historic”, $925-million investment over five years in “fundamental, investigator-led research” through federal granting councils, plus nearly $750 million over five years in other major science commitments. “This is a big win for science and it didn’t happen by chance,” she wrote. “It happened because the research community took unprecedented action over the last year, calling with a unified voice for the government to invest in fundamental research.”