Ontario's Duty to Conserve Biodiversity

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In January, 2012, the ECO released this special report, Biodiversity: A Nation’s Commitment, an Obligation for Ontario.. Click here for more information or to download this report.
Ontario's Duty to Conserve Biodiversity

Where we Stand in 2012
Ontario’s Biodiversity and the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993

The Role of Provincial Ministries

Appendix 1: Strategic Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets
Appendix 2: The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s Reporting on Biodiversity
Appendix 3: Selected Recommendations of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Relevant to Biodiversity Protection

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, can be understood as the variety of life on Earth. It is the variability of native species and the wealth of ecological systems that form the layer of life around our planet. Ontario’s biodiversity is inextricably linked with the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soils we depend upon for our food, and the lands and waters upon which we depend for our natural resources and livelihoods. There is scientific consensus that the world’s species, and the ecosystems on which they depend, are being threatened at a global scale.

The loss of biodiversity directly affects Ontario. Similar to the rest of the world, the most significant threats to biodiversity in our province are habitat degradation, climate change, invasive species, overexploitation, and pollution. The State of Ontario’s Biodiversity 2010 concluded that our provincial government’s efforts to conserve biodiversity have increased over the last decade, but they have been insufficient to prevent its continued loss.

In 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity was introduced at the Rio Earth Summit as an international agreement to conserve biodiversity and commit to its sustainable use. A year later, the Government of Canada became the first industrialized country to become a signatory to the Convention.

In 1995, the Government of Ontario affirmed its commitment to biodiversity conservation along with all other provinces and territories.4 By virtue of our Canadian Constitution, the Government of Ontario has a direct obligation to fulfill Canada’s responsibilities under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Our system of government in Canada has given the provinces and territories almost all the responsibilities for managing and regulating our country’s biodiversity. In 2010, almost every country on the planet met in Nagoya, Japan to set a path forward. As a result, the international community agreed to 20 biodiversity conservation targets that are to be achieved by 2020 (the “Aichi Targets,” see Appendix 1).

Table 1: Provincial, Federal, and International Biodiversity Policy Timeline

International and Federal Ontario
1991 Report to the Minister of Natural Resources by the Wild Life Working Group recommending a biodiversity strategy for Ontario
Rio Earth Summit: the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD ) is established 1992
The Government of Canada becomes a signatory to the CBD 1993
The Government of Canada releases a federal biodiversity strategy, calling on all provinces and territories to develop their own strategies 1995 The Government of Ontario publicly commits to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, but takes no specific action
Global Biodiversity Outlook is released; first summary of the global status of biological diversity 2001
Countries pledge to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 2002 The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) recommends that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) develop a biodiversity strategy for the province
2003 The ECO encourages MNR to develop targeted strategies for protected areas, natural heritage features, invasive species, and species at risk
Millennium Ecosystem Report is released 2005 MNR releases Protecting What Sustains Us: Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy to guide actions over the next five years
Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 is released; assesses the status, trends and the key drivers of biodiversity loss 2006
2008 The ECO recommends that all prescribed ministries develop detailed action plans that specify the measures that they will undertake to conserve biodiversity
The Government of Canada reports that progress across the country is mixed, renewed effort is needed 2009 The ECO recommends that the Government of Ontario establish a statutory responsibility for monitoring and reporting on the state of the province’s biodiversity
Global Outlook 3 is released; 2010 targets not met in full, renewed effort is needed
Countries meet in Nagoya, Japan: 20 biodiversity targets are set for the year 2020 (“Aichi Targets”); subnational governments encouraged to act
2010 Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy expires
The ECO recommends that MNR lead the development of a new and reconceived biodiversity strategy for the Government of Ontario
2011 The Ontario Biodiversity Council develops a new biodiversity strategy without formal government involvement; MNR states that it is not directly responsible for the contents of the strategy
Global Outlook 4 planned for release 2015
Date for CBD 2020 Aichi Targets to be met 2020

Canada’s obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity fall squarely on the shoulders of the provinces and territories. Efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity must be implemented at the provincial level.

The purpose of this Special Report is to highlight the nature of the Government of Ontario’s obligations with regard to the Aichi Targets. Specifically, the intent of this Special Report is to begin a dialogue on how the Aichi Targets can be tailored for use by our provincial ministries.

In 2015, countries around the world will take stock in our progress to meet the 20 Aichi Targets. It is imperative that Ontario not be out of step with efforts across the country and around the globe. For example, New Brunswick and Quebec both have biodiversity strategies developed by their provincial governments to coordinate action among their own ministries.

The Government of Ontario must recognize the challenges before us, act in the public interest and move forward, given the pervasive impact of biodiversity loss on almost every sector of our society. Our government must make difficult, but reasonable, choices about how it will prioritize biodiversity conservation efforts. Ontario cannot deny the obligations before it.

Where We Stand in 2012

For the past decade, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) has identified in numerous reports to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that conserving biodiversity is a provincial interest and a government-wide responsibility (see Appendices 2 and 3). In 2010, the ECO recommended to the Ontario legislature that the Ministry of Natural Resources lead the development of a new and reconceived biodiversity strategy for the Government of Ontario (see Table 1).

The Government of Ontario had a five-year plan, Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, which expired in 2010.11 A renewed biodiversity strategy was developed by the Ontario Biodiversity Council, a third-party collection of stakeholders, in 2011 to fill the policy void left by government. However, the Government of Ontario has distanced itself from this strategy by choosing not to have decision-making authority for its development or contents.12 Although the Ministry of Natural Resources has suggested that it will respond to this renewed strategy, no plan of action now exists to articulate the government’s commitment to conserving biodiversity. Simply reacting to this well-intentioned effort by stakeholders would be grossly insufficient and not an appropriate course of action by the Government of Ontario. The Government of Ontario must take ownership, have a strategic plan to address the Aichi Targets, and act. Rhetoric will not suffice.

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