Summit Showcases Opportunity to Conserve Nature on a Large Scale



By Jeff Wells

April 18, 2019 | Boreal Songbird Initiative

Photo c

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is convening a first-of-its-kind gathering in Montreal on April 24-25. The Nature Champions Summit will bring together environment ministers, Indigenous leaders and others from around the world to talk about addressing the sobering loss and decline of biodiversity worldwide. It will be an opportunity to showcase not only Canada’s natural legacy but also the leadership of Indigenous and Crown governments in finding bold new ways to maintain that legacy into the future.

Canada is a special place. Within its borders are some of the world’s most significant biodiversity features and carbon storage banks. By demonstrating how to protect and maintain those globally important natural assets in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, Canada can offer hope and inspiration to the nations of the world as they look to set new international goals for nature in 2020.

The Nature Champions Summit will be the perfect place to begin turning that inspiration into on-the-ground solutions that make our planet and our lives healthier and more resilient.

A Vast Carbon Storehouse and Trove of Biodiversity

Canada’s natural riches are well known. People are familiar with Canada’s unique animals like caribou and polar bears. Perhaps they know of Canada’s vast forests, massive lakes and rivers and of course the coasts and marine waters.

But many people may not realize that Canada is also home to another globally significant resource: massive storehouses of carbon. That carbon adds up to more than 200 billion tonnes–the equivalent of up to 36 years’ worth of global carbon emissions.

The carbon is found in the peatlands, soils, permafrost and trees, mostly of the Boreal Forest region. These carbon stores represent thousands of years of the work of plants slowly extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In a sense this carbon bank is a climate cooling legacy stored in the safety deposit box of intact forests and peatlands of Canada’s North.

Those intact landscapes are also some of Earth’s last strongholds for nature. The still largely intact boreal region supports woodland caribou, grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines—many of which have disappeared south of the border. The Boreal Forest still has healthy runs of salmon and trout and sturgeon in its rivers and lakes, and billions of birds that are now migrating swiftly north to find quiet and beautiful places to raise their young.

Conserving Globally Significant Landscapes

Canada has made a commitment to nearly doubling the area of Canada protected by 2020 in order to reach goals Canada committed to under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Reaching that goal will be cause for celebration. But we must remember that it is still only one more step toward a higher goal: protecting the amount of land that science tell us is needed to stem the sharp cliff edge of extinctions and declines in nature.

To reach the interim step of protecting at least 17% of lands by 2020, the federal government has stepped up to the challenge by investing over $1.3 billion over five years in biodiversity protection.


One of the most effective ways to accelerate toward that goal is to support the Indigenous Nations that are proposing new protected areas across the country. Indigenous governments have been at the forefront of advancing a stewardship vision that balances protection and industrial development on their traditional lands.

The Nature Champions summit provides an opportunity to highlight the leadership of these Indigenous governments and the role of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in Canada in forging an ambitious new agenda to maintain the world’s crucial carbon stores while also gaining in biodiversity protection.


Photo credit: Ducks Unlimited Canada