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Canada Lags Behind in Land and Water Protection, Experts Say

flickr/Frank Fujimoto

Canada has fallen behind in protecting its land and water, parks and wilderness advocates warn.

Canada ranks last among G7 countries when it comes to protecting land and freshwater areas, according to a report released today from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

CPAWS’ annual report, this year titled, “From Laggard to Leader? Canada's renewed focus on protecting nature could deliver results,” dives into the ongoing issue of the need for protected land to be put aside.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity established a goal for countries to set aside 17% of its land and freshwater by 2020. In 2010, Canada supported that goal but as it stands now, is just over halfway there. In comparison, half of the countries that signed on had already reached their goals by 2014. The United States currently sits at 13%.

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"I think that there's a real problem in terms of being able to get governments to pay attention the way they need to, around this file. And it's partly because everyone's seen it as, oh it's nice to have, and not a priority," Éric Hébert-Daly, CPAWS’ national executive director, told CBC News. "And I think now folks are starting to realize, well, nature is actually a priority. It is in fact key to our survival and if we do it right, Canadians can be leaders in the world rather than the laggards we currently are."

In March 2016, Canada issued a joint statement with the United States on climate, energy, and arctic leadership.

“Canada and the US re-affirm our national goals of protecting at least 17% of land areas and 10% of marine areas by 2020. We will take concrete steps to achieve and substantially surpass these national goals in the coming years,” their joint statement read.

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And while that reaffirmed commitment from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is important for Canada, the country now needs to see more action taking place.

“With less than three years to fulfill our 2020 commitment, we need to get going now,” Hébert-Daly said in a statement. “In the report we identify places across Canada where a considerable amount of work has already been done on proposed protected areas. By acting now to permanently protect these sites, while also planning for what’s needed to conserve nature in the long term, Canada has a chance to move from laggard to leader.”

Hébert-Daly also told CBC that with a little push, there are areas ready for the government to turn into protected land.

Turning the South Okanagan-Similkameen region in British Columbia into a national park reserve has been supported by the First Nations since 2013, but it has not yet been put aside.

Another example is the Thaidene Nene, in the Northwest Territories. There is about 30,000 square kilometres of land the Lutsel k'e Dene First Nation is looking to protect.

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Protecting land like this would not only help the government reach its UN Convention on Biological Diversity goal, it would also help the federal government with reconciliation efforts.

Hébert-Daly listed other areas in need of protection in New Brunswick, as well as Saskatchewan.

Currently Canada only has 10.6% of its land protected from development. The country ranks behind Brazil (29.5%), China (17.1%), Australia (17%) and the United States (13%).

The former conservative government cut the budget for Parks Canada. Trudeau has said that the last government did not do enough for the environment, so the hope is that he will pick up the pace and steer Canada to its goal and beyond by 2020.