The Role of Provincial Ministries

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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

The Government of Ontario needs an integrated strategic plan that can co-ordinate the actions of all relevant ministries, while working towards the long-term goal of successfully conserving biodiversity in our province. A united approach across government is not only good for biodiversity; it is also an efficient and effective use of government resources. By working together, government policies and programs can be complementary rather than duplicative or counter-productive.

Ministries are seemingly unaware of the obligations they have under the Convention for Biological Diversity. Responsibility for Ontario’s biodiversity has largely been relegated to the Ministry of Natural Resources. The ignorance of the issue, and who is responsible, is the most significant barrier to effective policy for biodiversity conservation in Ontario today.

Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)

MNR should ensure that:
  • terrestrial areas and inland waters are conserved through ecologically representative and wellconnected systems of protected areas integrated into the wider landscape.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 11

  • the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 5

  • the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 12

  • invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 9

MNR has the opportunity to be the focal point for the Government of Ontario to lead action for the conservation of the province’s biodiversity. The ministry can play a key organizing role across government, uniting disparate program areas of other ministries. According to MNR, its current mandate is to “provide provincial leadership and oversight in the conservation of Ontario’s biodiversity.”

The ministry acts as the steward of all Crown land in Ontario, which makes up 87 per cent of the province; further, it co-ordinates the protection of natural heritage in southern Ontario on both public and private lands. MNR is also responsible for managing Ontario’s system of protected areas, including working with First Nations to protect more than half of the Far North, in addition to overseeing the sustainability of Crown forests across the province.

MNR is responsible for the management of the province’s fish and wildlife, including scientific research, monitoring and assessment. For example, the ministry coordinates action across government for the protection and recovery of species at risk. MNR has also recently assumed the lead role in an inter-ministerial effort to combat invasive alien species, which are a significant threat to many native plants and animals.

MNR works with Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities, which are often on the frontlines of conserving our province’s biodiversity. For example, in 2010, conservation authorities planted 2.9 million trees and provided landowners with $1.4 million in grants to carry out 478 habitat rehabilitation and restoration projects. MNR could increase its support to conservation authorities, expanding their valuable on-theground local work.

Given all these critical responsibilities, MNR is the natural choice to lead a strategic plan of action for biodiversity conservation in Ontario and has a clear mandate to do so. The opportunity lies with the Government of Ontario to empower MNR to carry out this responsibility.

Ministry of the Environment (MOE)

MOE should ensure that:
  • the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks is enhanced, contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 15

  • ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and that contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 14

  • pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 8

MOE has many responsibilities that have a direct bearing on addressing threats to biodiversity in Ontario. The ministry seeks to achieve “results in combating climate change, reducing toxics, and protecting water and natural areas while also supporting innovation and helping to grow a sustainable economy.” Although many of its responsibilities may not have been designed with biodiversity conservation as a top-of-mind element, MOE can make an indispensable contribution as part of an overall approach by the Government of Ontario.

Biodiversity loss and climate change are the most pressing global environmental crises of our time. When possible, government actions on one should be deliberately complementary to actions taken on the other. MOE has assumed leadership within government for addressing climate change through its Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan (2011-2014); it could be a key plank in a strategic plan of action for biodiversity if resolutely implemented.

MOE is the lead provincial ministry in implementing the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. The 2007 agreement states that Canada and Ontario will complete and implement binational biodiversity conservation plans for the Great Lakes. Some of these biodiversity conservation plans have been created; implementation led by MOE could make a key contribution to conserving the biodiversity of the Great Lakes.

Regulating pollution is essential to reducing biodiversity loss. MOE has many tools at its disposal to address this threat. For example, one year after Ontario’s ban on most cosmetic pesticides, the ministry reported up to a 97 per cent reduction of some chemicals toxic to aquatic invertebrates and fishes, in sampled streams. Such successes should be built upon.

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH)

MMAH should:
  • integrate biodiversity values into planning processes.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 2

  • eliminate or phase out any incentives harmful to biodiversity in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and develop positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity by municipalities.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 3

MMAH is the lead provincial ministry for land use planning on private lands in Ontario. The ministry is in the unique position to take a big picture approach, particularly for southern Ontario, laying out the landscape for decades to come. Additionally, as the province’s one-window approval authority for planning, MM AH has the opportunity to ensure that planning applications and municipal policies consider biodiversity at the community level.

Land use planning decisions significantly affect biodiversity. MMAH’s Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS) is a set of policies that provide direction on matters of provincial interest related to land use planning and development. Conserving natural heritage is currently a matter of provincial interest, but is often at odds with other provincial priorities.

MMAH has the opportunity to strengthen land use planning policies to protect biodiversity in its current review of the PPS, as well as during its upcoming 2015 review of the Niagara Escarpment Plan, Greenbelt Plan and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. For example, MMAH can explore potential amendments to the PPS that would require all municipalities to identify natural heritage systems and protect them in their official plans, ideally guided by an overarching natural heritage system for southern Ontario. The ministry also has the ability to tangibly support actions taken by municipalities, such as the innovation shown by the City of Greater Sudbury in developing its own localized biodiversity strategy.

Ministry of Energy (ENG)

ENG should:
  • integrate biodiversity values into energy planning processes
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 2

  • ensure that provincial energy consumption and its impacts are well within safe ecological limits.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 4

Long-term planning by ENG for energy conservation and more renewable energy will contribute to achieving the government’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets—ultimately benefitting Ontario’s biodiversity. However, energy infrastructure, including for renewables, can shape the landscape and the habitat on which species depend. By promoting energy conservation, less energy supply infrastructure will need to be built, thereby avoiding impacts on biodiversity. Additionally, Crown corporations overseen by the ministry, such as Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One, could expand on current efforts to partner with other organizations in biodiversity conservation and stewardship projects.

Ministry of Transportation (MTO)

MTO should:
  • incorporate biodiversity values in its transportation planning processes to maintain well-connected ecosystems on the wider landscape.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 2 and 11

MTO has an instrumental role in restoring ecosystem connectivity and addressing habitat fragmentation in Ontario, a key driver of biodiversity loss. For example, 1 in 17 motor vehicle collisions in our province involve a wild animal, not to mention the countless small species which are crushed by traffic. A key component of MTO ’s mandate is to “Integrate the principle of sustainability into the ministry’s decision making, programs, policies and operations by implementing the ministry’s sustainability strategy and continuing to build awareness.”

The ministry has a number of pilot projects to prevent wildlife collisions, such as the construction of wildlife over-crossings and wildlife detection systems to alert drivers to the presence of large animals. An additional opportunity for MTO lies in retrofitting bridge and road culverts to explicitly improve habitat connectivity and promote aquatic biodiversity.

A significant MTO initiative that could be expanded is the Greening the Right of Way program, which resulted in the planting of 290,000 trees in southern Ontario on land within and adjacent to the highways in 2010 and 2011. MTO has many untapped opportunities to consider biodiversity in maintaining and planning Ontario’s transportation network.

Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MTC)

MTC should:
  • integrate biodiversity values into its planning, grant-making and reporting systems.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 2

MTC has an array of opportunities to engage in conserving Ontario’s biodiversity, particularly through the many agencies, boards and commissions that it oversees. For example, the Ontario Trillium Foundation provides environmental grants at the community and province-wide levels. It also has a Future Fund that targeted leadership in the environment sector and building skills for the green economy. Additionally, the ministry oversees the Ontario Heritage Trust, which has an essential role to play through its Natural Spaces Land Acquisition and Stewardship Program.

Other MTC agencies and commissions also make important contributions to environmental education, including the Royal Botanical Gardens, Royal Ontario Museum, Science North, Ontario Science Centre, the Niagara Parks Commission and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission. MT C can help its agencies further engage in conservation and education, such as through renewed leadership and funding, to align with a provincial interest in maintaining Ontario’s biodiversity.

Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

OMAFRA should ensure that:
  • agricultural areas are managed sustainably to conserve biodiversity
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 7

  • the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 13

OMAFRA has a mandate to combat climate change, protect water and natural areas, and reduce toxins. For example, the ministry’s Environmental Farm Plan program provides subsidies for eligible projects that could enhance biodiversity conservation on many of Ontario’s roughly 57,000 farm operations. OMAFRA also can provide further incentives for ecological good and services on farmlands, by expanding its alternative land use services program.

The ministry has many other such tools at its disposal that have a direct impact on biodiversity, such as controlling pollutants through nutrient management and enhancing wetlands through municipal drainage works. In partnership with MOE and MNR, the ministry can make important contributions to conserving Ontario’s biodiversity through the actions it takes under the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Further, a key responsibility for OMAFRA to consider is the stewardship of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops and livestock.

Ministry of Education (EDU)

EDU should ensure that:
  • all Ontario students are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 1

As the administrator of publicly funded elementary and secondary education in Ontario, EDU can affect biodiversity conservation in several ways. The ministry is responsible for developing and implementing curricula for the majority of Ontario’s students. Including biodiversity lessons and outdoor education in curricula can instill students with knowledge and appreciation for the natural world that can direct behaviours and career paths towards environmental sustainability.

The government has provided funding for increasing renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and the use of innovative technologies in Ontario’s schools. The ministry could build on this work by developing policies that encourage schools to enhance habitat for biodiversity and reduce environmental impacts, such as through green roofs and other building-integrated vegetation.

Ministry of Infrastructure (MOI)

MOI should:
  • develop and apply positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity through use of green infrastructure.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 3

It is critical that MOI consider biodiversity in its operations, as it manages infrastructure planning and priority setting for the entire Government of Ontario. Rather than planning for big pipes and concrete infrastructure, MOI has the opportunity to complement current approaches with ‘green’ infrastructure. The ecological services provided by natural features, such as urban forests and wetlands, can be harnessed at varying scales to meet many needs, such as stormwater management, while also supporting biodiversity.

Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM)

MNDM should ensure that:
  • the impacts of development and mining are well within safe ecological limits.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 4

MNDM is responsible for the provincial mineral sector, including environmentally sound mineral development practices and the rehabilitation of mining lands. It also has a lead role with MOI in guiding local decision making in much of the province through the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. As MNDM moves forward in its oversight of mining in the Far North, particularly in the area known as the Ring of Fire, the ministry should work collaboratively with MNR to ensure that biodiversity protection is part of the equation of determining where development is appropriate.

Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (MAA)

MAA should ensure that:
  • the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, and fully integrated in a strategic plan for biodiversity, with the full and effective participation of aboriginal communities.
  • Adapted from Aichi Target 18

MAA has a mandate to promote collaboration and coordination across ministries on Aboriginal policy and programs.45 Its role is to work collaboratively with other ministries on key policy initiatives, such as green energy, mining and forestry policies, and Far North planning. The ministry should take advantage of this unique mandate to promote Aboriginal traditional knowledge of biodiversity, relevant for conservation, across sectors.

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