April 18, 2019

By Scott McFatridge

The original Earth Day in 1970 was intended in part to serve as the wake-up call that the world needed to better protect the species and ecosystems that are crucial to our quality of life – and to all life on earth. Nearly fifty years later, this message still resonates, both in Canada and abroad. Despite Canada’s abundant wildlife and ecosystems, in many parts of the country they are facing an alarming decline. For example, over 70% of Canada’s prairie grasslands have been converted to other land uses such as crop production and natural resource extraction. Many of Canada’s freshwater habitats, particularly in southern Canada, have been heavily modified by point and nonpoint source pollution, invasive and problematic species, and other drivers. And habitat loss and fragmentation has resulted in significant losses of wildlife, leading to declines in many wildlife species that were once common, such as the American eel and Greater sage-grouse.

Canada and other countries are attempting to turn these trends around. Canada and other parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) signed on to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets in 2010. Under Target 11, Canada and other signatories committed to protect at least seventeen percent of their terrestrial area and inland waters, and 10 percent of their marine and coastal areas by 2020. To make good on this pledge, Budget 2018 made an historic investment of $1.3 billion in nature conservation initiatives over five years.

These are important measures, but more needs to be done to reach our targets. In the absence of a critical mass of funding and committed efforts from governments, industry and all Canadians, we will miss the mark, now and in the future.

The sobering trends in biodiversity make clear that while traditional approaches to conservation are essential, they are not sufficient to meet our ambitious goals. To address the challenge posed by the 2020 conservation agenda, Smart Prosperity Institute has been thinking long and hard about what’s needed to kick-start a shift in thinking on nature conservation. New thinking on nature conservation does not displace traditional motivations and approaches to conservation, but rather ‘grows the tent’ by showing how conservation helps address many of the important challenges our country is facing, and broadening its appeal to Canada’s increasingly diverse and urbanized population. It involves making nature conservation and sound resource management a touchstone across the country – not just in the ecologically intact protected areas that we consider pristine, but in the landscapes and seascapes where all Canadians work, live and play.

We’re considering a number of questions and creative approaches, such as:

  • Given the importance of nature to Canadian identity, quality of life, and our economy, what can we do to make nature conservation a top of mind issue for Canadians?
  • How can new and unlikely allies, such as community-based public and mental health advocates, municipal governments, or businesses and entrepreneurs in industries such as insurance, tourism, retail, and natural resources get more engaged in being part of the solution to nature conservation?
  • What would be needed for nature conservation initiatives to help advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples?
  • What innovative tools exist for governments to generate or leverage additional funding for nature conservation initiatives, such as municipal biodiversity funds? And which financial instruments (such as environmental impact bonds) could transform nature conservation and ecological restoration into attractive investment opportunities for business, so that we can protect our wildlife and ecosystems for now and for the future?

We are excited by the fact that others are joining us in imagining these new approaches to nature conservation, and we hope that more still will join us in in the coming years.


To learn more, check out Smart Prosperity Institute's past work on Valuing & Protecting Nature and Species at Risk and the Smart Prosperity Leaders' Initiative's work on Standing Up for Nature