Tackling the Biodiversity Crisis is a Bit Like Building a Coral Reef

By: Emily McMillan, Executive Director at Nature Canada

We all know about the climate crisis, but there is also a biodiversity crisis—and we can’t tackle the one without tackling the other. Nature Canada’s Executive Director, Emily McMillan, highlights the organizations innovative strategies being implemented to reduce biodiversity decline.

Biodiversity, simply put, is biological richness. It is diversity at every level of life: ecosystems, species, and individual organisms. Biodiverse ecosystems can cope better with the impacts of climate change: a forest with many tree species, for example, can recover better from an insect infestation. Healthy ecosystems (e.g. oceans, forests and wetlands) can also capture and store carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Biodiversity is the wealth that keeps the planet resilient in the face of climate change.

But we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. The vast majority of habitats that sustain species at risk in Canada are not properly protected. At-risk wildlife populations, like the woodland caribou, have declined by almost 60 percent in the last 50 years. In the same time frame, mammal populations have fallen by almost half. Today, you will find less than 1 bird in Canada’s native grasslands for every 4 you would have seen in 1970.

“At-risk wildlife populations, like the woodland caribou, have declined by almost 60 percent in the last 50 years”

Emily McMillan

Imagine a truly momentous scenario: that we actually solve the climate crisis. It will be a hollow victory if we don’t simultaneously address the biodiversity emergency. We may have protected the planet from catastrophic warming, but we will still be living with a severely damaged support system and we will have lost countless species through our neglect.
So how do we go about halting and reversing biodiversity loss? One strategy is the “reef-building” approach.

Tapping into the Nature Network

A coral reef takes shape when millions of tiny organisms (“stony” corals) come together to create an immense, living structure. In a similar way, hundreds of nature groups can come together to create a Great Barrier Reef of commitment – one that decision-makers can’t ignore.

Nature Canada’s approach is to tap into a nationwide community of nature groups – our “Nature Network,” which currently consists of 1200 groups. Through advocacy and engagement, we work with the Nature Network to help Canada follow through on its pledges to halt and reverse nature loss.

And that means getting a bit creative about demonstrating to decision-makers the depth of Canadians’ resolve on this issue. Take, for example, the big UN biodiversity conference (“NatureCOP”), held in Montreal in December of 2022. In the lead-up to NatureCOP, Nature Canada hired three buses to traverse selected regions of Canada to collect messages and artwork from Canadians in support of nature and conservation. The Nature Network organized inspiring bus-stop events across the country, everything from art workshops to polar bear swims to shoreline cleanups. The buses collected thousands of messages, which were delivered to the Prime Minister Trudeau and displayed for delegates at the Nature-Positive Pavilion at NatureCOP.

Participants on the NatureBus Tour (Atlantic Canada)

In his opening address to the conference delegates, Prime Minister Trudeau quoted directly from two of the letters collected by Nature Canada. The conference itself was a success: delegates signed the Global Biodiversity Framework, which commits signatory countries to protecting 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030 (“30×30”). To achieve the goals of the Framework, the Canadian government committed to delivering a national biodiversity strategy and action plan (NBSAP), along with accountability legislation. As with climate change targets, reporting and accountability legislation is essential to keep the government on track.

“reporting and accountability legislation is essential to keep the government on track”

Emily McMillan

You probably haven’t heard of the NBSAP, to most people, it’s just another government acronym – but it is crucial to halting and reversing biodiversity loss. At this stage in the process, we (and our Nature Network partners) are working with decision-makers to make sure we get a robust NBSAP.

We began by holding key meetings at our annual spring “Nature on the Hill” event, which brings together nature groups from across the country to talk with Members of Parliament. Nature Canada met with Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); Tony Maas, of the Prime Minister’s Office; Joyce Murray, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries; and Ron Hallman, CEO of Parks Canada Agency.

On May 15, 2023, Minister Guilbeault launched the public consultation stage of the NBSAP, commencing with a symposium open to all Canadians. Nature Canada’s Executive Director Emily McMillan spoke at the launch, thanking Minister Guilbeault for his leadership and urging him to deliver a comprehensive NBSAP and accountability law by the end of 2023. Just recently, we joined with 17 other environmental groups to present shared recommendations to the federal government on how to make the NBSAP as strong as it can possibly be.

As well as working directly with decision-makers, we are continuing to educate the general public about NBSAP. In June 2023, we asked our most active supporters to fill out the ECCC survey, providing guidance and background on the NBSAP. We also asked all our other supporters (our “Nature Nation”) to sign a letter to federal decision-makers asking for a strong action plan to halt and reverse nature loss. The email reached 18,779 supporters, and resulted in 6681 signatures.

There is strong public support for halting and reversing nature loss, but there is less awareness that the NBSAP is a crucial instrument for achieving this. Nature Canada has been working with both partners and supporters, as well as with ECCC itself, to ensure a strong and comprehensive NBSAP. In all these efforts, the Nature Network – our network of committed nature groups – has stood behind us.

Just as coral reefs can be natural protectors of coastlines, shielding them from storms and swells, so can the Nature Network be a bulwark against biodiversity loss.

If you want to get involved, visit Nature Canada for campaign updates, advocacy opportunities and more.