Since 2010, protected areas advocates have focused on the United Nations target of protecting at least 17 percent of our lands and inland waters, and 10 percent of our marine areas by 2020. Among our efforts, Ontario Nature, along with eight partner organizations, promoted the Protected Places Declaration to demonstrate widespread public support for achieving the target. Over 8,100 individuals and 154 organizations endorsed the Declaration, results that we will formally submit to provincial and federal political leaders.
But now that 2020 has come and gone, we need to consider what comes next.
The parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity have not yet formally replaced the 2020 target, but there is growing international support for a commitment to protect 25 percent by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030. Canada is among the more than 50 countries advocating for these new targets.
Between now and 2025, there will be a provincial election – likely in June 2022. So now is the time to secure protected areas commitments from Ontario’s leading political parties, and to build and demonstrate widespread public support for their achievement.
Political commitments should include first and foremost a pledge to meet the protected areas targets in Ontario, and to do so in the spirit and practice of reconciliation and with the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas are among the most promising options available, and all parties should commit to supporting their establishment where Indigenous communities express interest.
Beyond political will, meeting the targets requires, of course, a serious financial commitment which so far has been absent in Ontario. The Auditor General’s November 2020 audit, Conserving the Natural Environment with Protected Areas, uncovered the sorry results of a chronic lack of investment in the provincial protected areas system. Despite the considerable economic benefits of protected areas (e.g., 6,400 full-time jobs, $466 million contribution to provincial GDP), there is no plan to expand the system and insufficient staff to ensure that even the protected areas we do have are managed to effectively protect biodiversity. As the Auditor General pointed out in her press statement, this failure to invest leaves Ontario ill-prepared to face the economic consequences of biodiversity loss:
It’s time to turn the page on protected areas. To give you a sense of the opportunities, we invite you to visit our protected areas StoryMap which features numerous candidate protected areas that we have identified, in partnership with community groups, Indigenous colleagues and industry partners. These sites are just the beginning – tangible examples of the exciting work ahead.
Are there any other nature spots in Ontario that you think need protection? We want to hear from you! Post a photo of public lands that you want to see protected in Ontario on Instagram, use the hashtag #MoreProtectedPlacesON and tag us at @ontarionature.
Let’s explore the opportunities for permanently protecting public lands together!
Your support makes all the difference. Please consider making a gift to help permanently protect iconic wild spaces across Ontario.
Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007. She loves to go birding, camping, swimming, and skiing and to play hockey with her family and friends.