Indigenous involvement is critical to meeting Canada’s ‘30×30’ conservation pledge to protect 30% of its land, freshwater, and oceans by decade’s end, says a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund.
Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) “are the only hope we have” if Canada wants to achieve its biodiversity protection commitment, said Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation member Steven Nitah, managing director of Nature for Justice. Commenting on the WWF release, he told the Globe and Mail that Indigenous-managed lands are ecologically healthier, and natural areas will be a key defence in global climate efforts.
The report’s release in September coincided with “efforts by a group of world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to press their counterparts on biodiversity preservation ahead of international negotiations in Montreal later this year,” the Globe says.
Trudeau was set to speak at a New York City event co-organized by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, a group of more than 100 countries that have all formally endorsed a global 30×30 target.
Canada’s conservation targets include an intermediate goal of protecting 25% of its land, freshwater, and oceans by 2025.
To get there, the country must nearly double the 13.5% of land and freshwater ecosystems that are currently protected. WWF Canada says conservation needs to go beyond meeting numerical targets to also respect the rights of Indigenous communities.
“First and foremost, protected areas must be co-developed and implemented with Indigenous consent, recognizing the rights and title of the lands on which such actions are taken,” the organization says. “Indigenous knowledge systems, leadership, and stewardship must be respected and elevated in the creation of new areas, recognizing that self-determination and self-governance are critical aspects of reconciliation through conservation.”
WWF Canada analyzed 2020 data on existing protected and conserved areas to identify “holes in the ecological representation of our existing protected areas network.” The results were represented on a countrywide map that showed areas in critical need of protection, revealing stark disparities of conservation areas between the southern provinces and the northern territories.
That partly reflects the need to protect northern areas as critical habitats for wildlife. But it also highlights the unequal burden borne by northern Indigenous peoples to build a protected areas network for biodiversity and climate.
The report says IPCAs should be given high priority for protected status. “These are areas where Indigenous peoples play a primary role in conserving ecosystems,” the Globe and Mail says.
Nitah backed the report’s findings, adding that Canada could use international carbon markets to help support conservation on Indigenous lands. “Why not tie them together as an opportunity?” he said.